In 1999, Kelly and Mike Hemmer put an ad in the local newspaper to gauge interest in forming a community theater group in Monroe County.
They got a small response, with nine people making up the cast of their first play “Egad, What a Cad!,” which premiered Aug. 6, 1999 at the now defunct Church of the Nazarene on Main Street in Columbia.
Over 20 years later, that unnamed theater group is now Monroe Actors Stage Company, and it performed its 100th show the past two weekends.
“It means a lot to us that the community has supported us all these years,” MASC Board of Directors President Aaron Dillard said. “Without them we wouldn’t be able to provide quality art and entertainment. Through our sponsors and donors and our patrons, our group has been able to bring shows to the area, keeping it affordable for everyone.
“Their support also helps to grow talent and knowledge in the arts right here in rural America. We hear all the time from people that they had no idea that there was so much talent in this area.”
Dillard also thanked the Waterloo Odd Fellows for their support and allowing MASC to use their facility.
Performing at the Capitol Theatre in Waterloo represents just one of the many changes MASC had undergone in its history.
The original troupe was a mix of theater neophytes and veterans of school and community theaters. The group’s sets have become more detailed and structured. Its lighting and sound have become more advanced. Its membership has grown, allowing it to do bigger and more complex shows.
The group has also grown to the point it can support others, such as by a being a founding member of the Monroe County Arts Alliance.
“Our knowledge base is always growing, as well,” Dillard noted. “We are blessed to have so many talented people in all walks of life that all bring something to the table to improve our theater.”
John Campbell, one of MASC’s original members, said his favorite show in the 19 years he was with the organization was “The Flood,” which the group performed most recently last year. MASC first performed “The Flood” in 2007.
For Doylene Daniels, who got involved with MASC in the fall of 2000, her favorite show was “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a show she acted in twice, playing a different role each time.
“I like that the story’s funny, and I enjoyed the roles that I played,” Daniels said.
Campbell and Daniels, who both served on MASC’s board, are no longer with the organization because they moved or had health problems, respectively.
But they still fondly recall both the work of staging the plays and spending time with the group’s members.
“Artistically, I enjoyed the set design, directing and sometimes acting, probably in that order of what I enjoyed the most,” Campbell said. “But just being part of the organization and helping it find its way was pretty satisfying, too.”
Patrons of the group have enjoyed their time, too, with shows consistently packing the house.
Daniels said MASC fills a particular niche that helps it draw an audience.
“It’s just great to have this locally because I don’t like to travel to St. Louis or other places to do things,” she said. “For the local patrons like me who don’t want to have to drive over to St. Louis to have something to come and enjoy, I think it’s great.”
To celebrate its 100th show, MASC decided to perform “Oklahoma!,” which Dillard called “the first modern musical.” MASC has opened is season with a musical for the about the last decade.
“It seemed fitting to perform this true classic as our 100th show,” Dillard said.
The audience responded well to that decision, as both weekends of the show rapidly sold out.
“We have heard from our patrons how much they have enjoyed this show, and some have even said this is the best one they have seen,” Dillard said.
One of those patrons was Campbell, who came from Kentucky to see the group he helped start perform its 100th show.
“It’s a wonderful show,” he said. “It’s absolutely spectacular. It makes me feel good to have been part of that at one time and see it continue to grow and prosper.”
Community members can see that growth for themselves at MASC’s four other shows this season.
The group is performing “It’s a Wonderful Life” Nov. 15-17 and 22-24, “The Solid Gold Cadillac” Feb. 7-9 and 14-16, “Watch on the Rhine” April 17-19 and 24-26 and “Footlight Frenzy” June 12-14 and 19-21.
Visit www.masctheatre.org or call 939-SHOW for more information.