Organization turns a historic piece of Route 66 memorabilia into a theatre for all to enjoy

The people of Pulaski County, Mo., have an interest in the arts which spans generations.

That interest and the belief that live theater benefits everyone who comes into contact with it led to the formation of the Pulaski Fine Arts Association, and the opening of The Theater on the Square, located on Historic Route 66 in Waynesville, Mo.

In 1996, Albie Frizzle and Laura Milner joined forces, united by a desire to bring live theater to the people of Pulaski County.

Board member April York recalled how the seed of an idea to start a theater grew.

“Albie said, ‘I want to start a theater, and I need an actress, and Laura Milner said ‘I need a theater, and I’m an actress,’” April recalled.

The building that houses the theater was built in 1913, and was a general store, shoe store and pub, among other things. At times it sat empty, before being utilized by the Pulaski Fine Arts Association. Nine years ago, the building’s owner, Vergie Mahan, sold the two-story brick structure to the Fine Arts Association for the price of $10.

“Because if it was a gift, we would have had to pay a gift tax,” facilities manager Kevin Shrum explained.

“Over the years, people have approached us and said, ‘Can we buy your building?’ and we are, like, No!” April said with a chuckle.

Volunteers pitched in to make the necessary renovations. As with any older structure, care is taken to keep it serviceable and looking good.

“We remodeled the foyer and did the poster boxes outside just recently,” Kevin said.

“The community is very supportive of our theater and individuals and businesses donate things,” April added.

Local businesses help in a variety of ways, including donating work.

“In exchange for an ad we’ll put new locks on your door, or in exchange for an ad, we’ll cut down the trees in the back, so it’s a team work,” April explained. “Lone Oak Printing, which is next door, made the posters that are in our poster box. He just surprised us with those, ‘Here I made these for you,’ We didn’t ask for them or anything. I said, ‘You’re fantastic.’ It’s like we’re all in this together kind of thing.”

While the community helps with the day-to-day running of the theater, not much can be done about the lay-out of the old building, which was never intended to be used for its current purpose.

The large poles which stand on either side of the stage can get in the way during productions, but they can’t be removed, as they are supports for the structure.

“We need some magic fairy or HGTV to come in and do some amazing storage for us,” April said. “We are so limited in space.”

The theater operates fund raisers, including the sale of silk roses for $2 during productions.

The audience can write a message on it, and give it to cast and crew alike during intermission or at the end.

“We originally were doing that for our Raise the Roof fund, because we had to put on a new roof, but that has since been paid off, so it’s going towards our new central heating and air system,” producer Shannon Shrum explained.

Generally, the theater has four productions a year.

“Sometimes we have other special one weekend events or children’s things,” Shannon said.

Each production takes eight weekends of rehearsals before the play is ready to be seen by the public. Each production runs for seven to nine showings.

Making sure the public is aware of the theater’s existence takes a constant stream of publicity.

“We’re all the time getting people who have never been here. It’s like they didn’t know it existed,” Kevin commented.

The quality of the acting at the Theater on the Square is solid, and the group aims to keep the material they produce varied.

In the recent past, Theater on the Square has raised the curtain on a one-man show about Ulysses S. Grant, as well as the well-known plays such as “Twelve Angry Men,” “Fall of the House of Usher” and “Pinocchio.”

The enthusiasm and love of what they do is apparent when speaking to anyone involved with Theater on the Square. With the support of the Waynesville community solidly behind them, these thespians should be bringing live theater to the people of Pulaski County for many, many years.


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