The show will go on for retired drama teacher

Linda Satchwell
Staff Writer

    Terry Gallagher has been a fixture in Plumas County theater for 35 years. In a community where the arts maintain the heartbeat of the place, that’s saying a great deal.

    She came here back in 1975.  Gallagher was only 23 when she started teaching drama at Quincy High School.

    Prior to that, she had done professional theater in Alaska on tour boats. “It was great,” she said, “but it was good to see that I didn’t want to go into professional theater for very long. It’s a real cutthroat business, and if you plan on having a family you might as well hang it up, the pressures are so great.”

    Undaunted, Gallagher turned towards teaching. “I had my degree in English and theater arts, so this was perfect, this was just wonderful. I’m entertained all the time; you go to work and get entertained.”

    Gallagher retired a few months early, in April of this year, so that she could spend time with her mother who is very ill.  Between teaching full time, putting on a musical through Feather River College and trying to help with her mother, who is in the Monterey area, Gallagher said she was feeling overwhelmed.

    She’s happy about her decision to retire, but she misses her high school students. “We had five parties the last day I was here (at QHS) and five cakes, which was funny and fun.”

    In fact, when we went to the high school to see the “costume bank” that Gallagher had put together over the years, she was met with teenage shrieks, hugs and cries of “We miss you!”

    “Their energy is just really wonderful,” Gallagher said. “A lot of kids I had, I had their parents. That’s when you’ve been in a school for a long time. I hear a name and I say, ‘Did you have a cousin named Sarah?’

    “‘Oh, that’s my mom. She said she had you as a ninth-grader.’ You get a lot of that.”

    Gallagher said she’s glad she still gets to work at the college. “I still have my hand in something, it’s not like I’m being cut off completely.”

    Feather River College has been her alternative theatrical home for the past 15 years. The college called her at that time and asked her if she’d take over teaching its drama classes. Next, they said, “’Would you like to put on a show — like a musical?’

    “And I said, ‘OK.’”

    That, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Gallagher’s emphasis at U.C.-Davis was musical theater, but she said, “They’re tedious. You’ve got acting, you’ve got singing and you’ve got dancing. And that’s just for the actor.” Add to that the choreographer, musical director, soloists and choral work. “Musicals are huge projects,” she said.

    After directing “The Sound of Music” for the college several years back, Gallagher said she swore she’d never do another musical. “We sold out every show before we even opened and it was fantastic. And, I was so exhausted, I said ‘I just don’t think I can do it anymore.’”

    Three or four years later, however, when it was suggested she do another musical, because they’re so popular in Plumas County, she thought about it and said, “Sure!”

    “Oklahoma,” which just finished its five-day run at the Town Hall Theatre, was a joy for Gallagher.

    “I loved working with all the people I worked with,” she said. “I was very fortunate that way. The other nice thing about the cast for “Oklahoma!” in particular — and this hasn’t necessarily happened in the past — most of the chorus could read music, and that was a huge help ... and the ensemble work that we did, I thought, was some of the best that I’ve been able to direct and be a part of.”

    In addition, she “felt very fortunate to work with Jeffrey Bryant,” a professional in the Stagehands Union in Los Angeles with lots of experience, who had just retired and moved to Quincy.

    She also “had a great crew. My oldest crewmember, Sam Catalano, whom I just love, from Taylorsville — he’s 83 years old — did a lot of painting and was here every time you needed him to be.

    “That’s the fun part. You get to meet so many different types of people, and they come back year after year.”

    “David Riley, who played Jud has probably been in 20 of my productions — I had him in high school, too,” said Gallagher, adding that 12 of her high school students were in “Oklahoma!” and “they were a delight.”

    “It’s a young people’s show,” she said. “It’s people between 18 and 25. They go to the box social, they’re all dating each other — it was perfect for them.”

    One of the joys of teaching at the college, where she’s an associate faculty member, is that the college theater program draws people “from all walks of life.”

    In “Oklahoma!” Gallagher said the youngest person was 10, and the oldest was Catalano. “How fun,” she said, “all these people working for the same project and wanting to make it successful.”

    Another aspect of the show that made it fun and highlighted the community aspect of theater here is that a number of people who were in the first production of “Oklahoma!” at FRC 35 years ago were connected to this show as well.

    John Probst, who taught choral and theater at the college for 25 years, directed “Oklahoma!” as his first show at the college. This time around, he conducted the orchestra.

    Jodi Beynon played Laurey, the lead, the first time, and this time, she was Aunt Eller.

    Kathy Price played Ado Annie in the earlier production, and her daughter played the same character this time.

    “We had a full house the first night, and sold out every other night ... we had a standing ovation all five nights. The cast was just on top of the world.”

    They had only three hours after the last performance, however, to break down the set and be out of the theater.

    Building that set is a story in itself. Gallagher designs the sets herself. She drew the backdrop for “Oklahoma!” which was 24 x 12 feet, and her crew built it in twelve 4 x 8- foot flats that were pieced together “like a giant puzzle.”

    “I have a picture and I divide the picture into panels,” explained Gallagher. “Then I paint it panel by panel.” She and her crew lay it out in the parking lot to see if it will fit together.

    After that, they load it onto trucks and haul it down to the theater, where they piece it together, taping the seams and adding paint where necessary.

    Besides the huge backdrop, they constructed two full buildings for this show: Aunt Eller’s house (which included a roof and a porch) and a smokehouse.

    This is “truly community theater,” said Gallagher. There were 30 cast members, 14 members of the orchestra and a set crew of about five.

    They work so hard and so closely that, said Gallagher, “We feel like we’re living together.” Inevitably then, “there’s a depression when the show’s over.”

    But, of course, there’s always next year.


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