Warner Robins Little Theatre will open its doors to the public 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday for an event unique to stages in Middle Georgia. In a rare gathering of thespian talent, nine founders and friends of WRLT will share their memories in a panel Q&A highlighting 54 years of continuous live theater in Warner Robins and its impact on the community. Cheryl Bayer Taylor will share backstage memories of her mother, Vera Bayer, who was instrumental in founding WRLT, and discuss how local live theater led to her own experience in Off-Broadway productions. Other local figures scheduled to share their memories in this historic event are Lee Kingery, Ruth Logan, Jeff Pierce, Les Chesser (traveling from Atlanta), Kathy Balletto, Joan Croft Bowen and Dub Croft. Bowen and Croft are the widow and son of Houston County school system educator Max Croft, who spearheaded the founding of WRLT with Bayer, wife of local businessman Ed Bayer. The Bayers also founded Warner Robins Supply, one of the longest continuously family-owned and family-operated businesses in Warner Robins.
Moderating the panel discussion will be Fred Hardin, whose own acting and directing career with the theater dates back to 1972. “This is going to be a fun evening sharing memories of the days when we performed at Parkwood Elementary and Westside Elementary because the City Auditorium did not have curtains yet,” Hardin said. “The important thing about that is today every high school in town has an auditorium with a stage for local students to get some experience to move on to community theater.”
“You cannot think of little theater in Warner Robins without giving a huge thanks to Ray Horne,” Hardin said. In fact, the theater facility at Northside High School is named the Ray Horne Auditorium. In addition, Ronnie Barnes, former history teacher at Warner Robins High School, produced the annual “Follies” for years, giving high-schoolers the opportunity to hone their singing, dancing and performance skills. The “Follies” were so successful that the Houston County Board of Education honored Barnes last year in a 50th anniversary reunion by naming the Ronald P. Barnes Performing Arts Warner Robins High School Theater in his name.
“Community theater is really the stage for adults to showcase their talents, but Warner Robins Little Theatre has benefited from teachers such as Richard Mitchum encouraging his students to audition with us,” Hardin said. Other well-known locals who went on to a career in front of an audience include Sandra Eakes and Dodie Cantrell, thanks to the talented contributions at the time of Paulette Winters, Gloria Brookshire and Karen Heck.
Capturing the local history panel discussion on video will be the Warner Robins Oral History Project committee, which has to date interviewed more than 100 local pioneers telling their stories in their own voices and images. The interviews captured over the past two years tell the stories of the transition from Wellston to Warner Robins — including the railroad, African-American minor league baseball, business development, Houston County schools and churches, the World War II experience (including the thoughts of a 93-year-old pilot) and the growth from a rural Georgia hamlet to one of the largest industrial complexes in the Southeast. All the interviews, including the WRLT panel discussion, are being captured on video, converted to DVD and deeded to the University of Georgia’s Georgia Home PLACE digital library, which has received recognition because of the unique contribution to Georgia historic preservation.
The WRLT panel discussion is free and open to the public, with seating available on a first-come, first-seated basis. No reservations are required. Light refreshments will be provided. To learn more about the upcoming show “Sylvia” (Sept. 16-18, 21-24) and the 2016-17 WRLT season, visit www.wrlt.org or call 478-929-4579.
Marsha Priest Buzzell is the executive director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau and may be contacted at 478-922-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.