It’s the Sunday before opening night of “South Pacific.” A tech rehearsal. Tech rehearsals are notoriously long, hard, often over eight-hour days and nights of a rehearsal. Tempers get short. The setting of cues are relentless and tedious.
Then there’s idle chatter that gets in the way from a bored cast that wants to eat or go home.
A child actor wants to be heard. Director Terry Gallagher, ever the professional, takes a minute out to hear the child, listen to what he’s saying and then move the whole process along smoothly. The precious minute never feels lost. All told, anyone else would have lost his or her temper. But not Gallagher.
Patience was always one of her virtues — it would have to be — she’s worked with teenagers, children and young adults her entire teaching career. She has taught theater classes in Plumas County since 1975. First at Quincy High School and then in 1993 she started up at Feather River College in charge of the small, but mighty theatre program which culminates in a musical production the first two weekends in May each year.
This month’s production of “South Pacific” marked her last curtain call as FRC’s consummate director of its yearly production — a program often seen as the pinnacle community outreach bridging the college against the hillside and the downtown. She leaves impossibly big shoes to fill.
“Terry has been a selfless and committed leader for FRC’s annual drama production. She’s invested a practically immeasurable amount of time and energy into bringing wonderful productions to our community,” said FRC’s dean, Derek Lerch. Lerch also expressed appreciation for the “very deliberate” shows Gallagher has brought to the county that she felt would resonate here.
“Terry has expertly navigated the difficult and generally unseen job of making difficult casting decisions,” Lerch continued. That’s never an easy task.
Casting shows in a small town environment comes with a good deal of anxiety. When there’s one starring role and a room full of hopefuls that you already know by name, the pressure is on. Not for Gallagher, who once passed on her own daughter in favor of another actress for a part. They didn’t speak for a while. She was always determined to find chemistry between leads — especially romantic leads and pieces needing comedic timing. In the 2017 “Cabaret” production she cast husband and wife team Bryan and Danielle Plocki as Sally and Cliff for just that reason.
But that’s part of the professionalism that actors have come to appreciate from Gallagher. “During the shows I performed in and in “South Pacific” she treated me with respect and valued my thoughts and opinions, very generously asked me to support the cast in singing and I watched how she brought out the best in people and believed in them over and over. A true inspiration for many,” said Saraha Michelle Black.
There are always familiar faces. There are community members who’ve worked with her for years. Like Kim West Carroll, who first met Gallagher when she was a student at Quincy High School in the ‘80s. Carroll has worked as assistant director for her, directed at QHS for her and performed as a cast member in community and FRC productions. “She has been an inspiration, a mentor and most importantly, a friend,” Carroll said.
“There are so many things running through my head to say about her but the two things that keep repeating are Mrs. Gallagher = life changer, life saver,” said actress and Pachuca Productions co-founder Tina Terrazas. Terrazas hadn’t acted before moving to Plumas County. Meeting Gallagher, learning from her and performing in her productions, changed the direction of her life. That’s a sentiment frequently echoed among her former students — bringing out abilities people didn’t know they had until she brought it out in them. Students have cited her as a second mother.
That stands to reason. Gallagher, with three children and six grandchildren and 43 years of teaching under her belt, is the mother of theater in Plumas County. Of her students — especially the younger ones — she said, “They teach you more than you teach them. They teach you how to be patient and understanding. They teach you that difference is a good thing.”
Gallagher admits not being a very studious student herself — sometimes the class clown — and realizes that every student and every actor has something to contribute in their own way.
“She has impacted people simply by being herself and sharing her gifts. We are so lucky. I’m so thankful,” said Terrazas.
Indeed her personal juggle of career and family has been an inspiration to many creative women in the county. At one point, Gallagher recalls in the early ‘90s when she began FRC, she would be at QHS all day, come home and feed three kids, and dash off to FRC at night with little time to rest until summer. It was a good thing her family was often incorporated into many productions. People often refer to her husband as a saint.
As Saraha Michelle Black noted, it’s hard not to be inspired by her or become emotional as to what she’s given the community.
Part of what she gave was community itself. Gallagher had a penchant for reaching out beyond Quincy — making sure musicians and actors from Chester, Indian Valley and Eastern Plumas, for example, were included. A small but mighty group of actors and singers carpooled to Quincy from Portola to participate and she always worked with those braving the winter weather making the dangerous nighttime trek. “It’s about the whole community, pulling in more people from all over the county,” she said.
At Gallagher’s recent retirement party, the show tune sing-along went for 90 minutes straight. Dr. Jeff Kepple led the assembled with a round of “Edelweiss” from “Sound of Music” with his guitar. Gallagher was choked up.
Her husband, Tim Gallagher, marveled at their journey and how Quincy has changed from 40 years ago when they first came, moving from a very little logging town to a thriving artistic community. Gallagher was certainly an intrinsic and vital ingredient in making arts thrive in Plumas County.
One of the cast members from “South Pacific,” passed out alternative lyrics to “Thanks for the Memories.”
“Thanks for the memories, for all the plays done, the laughter and the fun, songs to sing, dance routines that really kept you on the run, how grateful we are.
“Thanks for the memories, lots of years each May, special in every way, so many nights, so many days, to bring us special plays, we loved it so much.
“Thanks for the memories, from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ to Forum with a Spoof, from Shakespeare to ‘Hairspray,’ that’s all we need for proof, how special you are.
“Thanks for the memories, you brought that special spark, you care for every part, you taught, you cheered, your passion showed, you gave with all your heart, Oh thank you so much.”
When asked what she’s going to do when she’s retired, Gallagher smiled her broad and cheerful smile and said, “Nothing. No plans. None.”
No one expects that to be true.