When David Burrow was a sixth grader performing in "Tom Sawyer," he accidentally dropped a paintbrush into a bucket of whitewash, splashing fake white paint all over the stage.
"It got a huge laugh. The next performance, I dropped the paintbrush deliberately. At that point I discovered I liked being a ham on stage," said Burrow, a USD history professor who this weekend is trading in his last summer's role as a farmer in "Oklahoma!" to that of Alfred P. Doolittle, a member of what his character calls London's "undeserving poor," in Vermillion Community Theatre's "My Fair Lady."
"Although I'm generally a shy person who doesn't always know what to say during nor
mal conversations, for some reason playing the fool on stage doesn't bother me," Burrow admits. "To paraphrase my character in 'My Fair Lady,' I like it, and I plan to go on liking it."
An unlikely company of university, high school and community actors, musicians and crew will present the Lerner and Loewe classic at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the high school performing arts center.
Cindy Aden says she was bitten by the performance bug at a young age. Last summer's "Oklahoma!" looked to be so much fun that she wanted to join the party. Now she not only is a member of the chorus but has been assigned some speaking and acting in "My Fair Lady."
"I'm stretching myself and my capabilities, and that's lots of fun but terribly frightening," said Aden, who works at the Clay County veterans service office. "There's nothing quite like the fear and excitement of going onstage to put forth my best effort and see how the audience responds. Right now there's a lot of fear going on!"
Another USD faculty member, Solveig Korte, figured being part of one of her all-time favorite shows was too good an opportunity to pass up. "It is a challenge learning the music, the dancing and the movements but a good challenge," Korte said. "I don't need to go to any gym to work out the dancing gets my heart rate up, and trying to remember everything keeps my brain engaged!"
Centerville High alumnus Caleb Olson, soon to be a USD theater major, sings, dances and acts in his first VCT show. "It's a good habit to always keep busy, especially so when what I am doing is related to what I hope to be doing as a career," he said. "With every show there is always something to learn and grow from."
The sense of family that somehow always develops despite the diversity of the cast keeps Sue Kappenman coming back. "For me it's a question of remembering which character I'm playing at the moment and then what kind of behavior or attitude that character would have," she said. "But one of the wonderful things about community theater is that each of us has something to contribute to the overall production, and we all help each other along the way to accomplish the end product."
From a raucous dance number outside an English pub to a very proper embassy ball, the production numbers in "My Fair Lady" stretch a novice dancer's skills from one scene to the next. "The way I remember the differences between the dance numbers," said Abraham Painter, recent USD graduate, "is their context within the storyline. I can't say I'm very good at this, as evidenced by my footwork in practices, until close to production week."
Since Painter plays Harry, a faithful customer at one of those London pubs, "with a little bit of luck, being sloppy really fits right in!" he said.
Another chorus member involved in all of the show's dance sequences, USD graduate student Danielle Dornbusch, has a rehearsal routine of her own at home. "First I read through my staging notes, then I go through the motions, and finally find the music on YouTube and bust a move!" she said. "It gets pretty intense sometimes, but I love challenging myself to learn the movements and put everything together."
Dornbusch considers the effort worth it. "The show has become part of me, and it will be hard knowing I have to wait a whole year before the opportunity rolls around again," she said.
Stephanie Maddox, cast in the leading role of Eliza Doolittle, considers it fortunate to have taken a dialect class at USD in which they studied in depth both Cockney and RP ("received pronunciation," or the Queen's English) dialects. "Having that class under my belt made me far less nervous about performing a show in both of those dialects," said Maddox, whose character transforms before our eyes from a flower seller on the street to a lady of class.
Both in and out of the theater, Maddox has been deliberately speaking for the past six weeks with an accent. "I have always spoken in a British accent randomly, even before we started this show," she explained. "Now it is much more frequent, especially when I am hanging out with other cast members. Each of them gives me another set of ears in a situation where there is no pressure, so they can let me know how I'm sounding."
The scene in which Eliza sings "I Could Have Danced All Night" also features Kelsey Johannsen as Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper who comes to nurture and care for Eliza during her stay at Prof. Henry Higgins' home. "It is really an honor to be a part of that scene," Johannsen said. "From the sleek and fast scene changes to listening to everyone's talented voices, it gives me goose bumps almost every night."
USD professor David Hulac considers his role as Henry Higgins to be the most ambitious he has ever attempted. "The challenges abound," Hulac said. "The accent and the line memorization are obvious, but it's trying to get into Henry's head that is the most challenging. He's a very complex figure, not quite as cartoon-y as he might first appear."
Hulac said he and Higgins are alike in that they are both idealists and dreamers who like talking about ideas. "But one important difference between us is that Henry has no regard for the people he steps on to accomplish his ends," he added.
From his wife Mary and their three children to directors, choristers and volunteers, Hulac realizes the success of such a mammoth production relies on the contributions of so many.
Burrow concurs, adding, "There's something profoundly enjoyable about getting together with people and doing a show. It is focused energy a nice sprint rather than the marathon that is my regular work life. There's also something about the camaraderie of a show where everyone is there because he wants to be. That's a great contrast to ordinary life where one does things because he has to or is obligated to."
"After the show is over," Aden said, "I'll have the friends I've made here, stories to share as well as the rest of the summer to catch up on my sleep!"
"There's a collective spirit to community theater that I don't really get to experience otherwise," Burrow said.
Tickets are available at Davis Pharmacy and at Nook 'n' Cranny as well as the door. Tickets go on sale earlier, but the theater doors open 30 minutes before curtain time.