Not only will it be the third time that Ron Cassady directs the Sherman Community Players in “Noises Off” at Finley Theater this month, it will be his last production.
“Directing is such a good feeling; it’s so neat to get all the elements together,” said Cassady last week. “Directing was just more fulfilling for me (than acting).”
Cassady will retire at the end of the run for “Noises Off” on April 29; this will be after 38 years at the helm of the Sherman community theater program.
“I’ve got grandkids now; it’s time, I’m 66 years old,” he explained. “I see the theater moving on.”
After the “Noises Off” run Friday through April 29, Cassady has no specific plans for retirement except maybe a little acting. He and wife, Nancy, an actress in her own right, have been part of some 200 productions in Sherman. There have been dramas, musical, mysteries, dinner theaters and comedies at the rate of about five per year.
“It’s been a good run,” smiled Cassady.
Cassady joined the SCP as director in 1974. His first full production was “Charley’s Aunt” that fall; he had done a children’s play earlier that summer.
“I got a letter from the board of directors,” he explained. “Everything on the application I had done except the lighting. I knew it was the right thing. I liked them and they liked me.”
According to Cassady, Sherman is ‘a great place for the arts.’
“There is the symphony; and the Sherman Art League,” he said. “There is some of everything in the arts here.”
From his own experience, there are so many ‘great moments’ on the Sherman stage.
“It’s hard to say which are my favorites,” he admitted.
He did the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” a production with mostly African American roles. It went so well that SCP did “A Raisin in the Sun,” an African American drama.
“We tapped into some great talent in this community for those productions,” said Cassady. “They were really good.”
He also listed the productions of “Noises Off,” a three act farce, that have been one of the ‘biggest productions we’ve done.’
“The scenery moves around between acts and it’s hard to do,” explained Cassady. “But it’s so fun and it is a favorite of many.”
Cassady recalled two of the production as being ‘held over’ for a total of five weeks: “Always Patsy Cline” and “Smoke on the Mountain.”
“Everyone loves the music of Patsy Cline,” he said. “And we kept bringing ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ back; I thought it would never end!”
Of course, during the course of almost four decades, the director is going to meet his share of talented actors. There are 10-17 performers per production. One stands out because of his acting after SCP in Sherman.
“Norman Bennett started here,” said Cassady. “What a great and generous guy. He was one of the most wonderful actors we’ve had.”
Bennett, an English teacher, hired a Dallas agent and went on to be in such films as “Tender Mercies” with Robert Duvall and “Terms of Endearment” with Shirley MacLain and Jack Nicholson.
“All the actors I’ve worked with have given their time and talents to this program,” said Cassady. “They have committed themselves to many hours to make the show work. I am so appreciative of that.”
John Markl, a community actor since fall 2008, appreciates Cassady’s style of directing.
“I love him as a director; his style is so helpful,” said Markl. “He doesn’t hit you all at once; he layers it. He makes sure you’ve got it and then takes you to the next level. He sets goals for his actors and makes sure they achieve them.”
Markl has been in eight production with Cassady; six on the stage and two ‘in the booth.’ He also will be helping Cassady with the summer benefit dinner theater, “Southern Hospitality.”
Cassady also noted the many volunteers who worked on set design and construction over the years. Set people are a ‘godsend’ to us, he added.
“I’ve gotten to work with all different kinds of people; I’ve always tried to get new people involved,” he continued. “I like to give them the experience of performing on stage; and then seeing progress.”
But how did the young man from Cooper, Texas move so effortlessly from acting to directing right out of college?
“I went to East Texas State University (Texas A&M-Commerce now) where I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree,” explained Cassady. “It was mostly timing I guess.”
For his master’s degree, Cassady had to direct a play; it fell in the summer months when most students are away from campus. Cassady had to take the few students he had and mix them with people from the community to fill out the parts.
“It was fun to pick the right people for the right part,” recalled Cassady. “We worked on it for four or five weeks together. I found I was able to bring the community actors to the standard of the student actors.”
“It was a great experience to do that,” Cassady concluded.
Of course, raising a family in this type of arts environment had to rub off on some of Cassady’s four children. In fact, wife Nancy and daughter, Katie, are both in “Noises Off.” Another daughter, Rachel, was a singer in “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash story.
“They grew up in the theater,” smiled Cassady. “The two girls really took to the stage. I like to see them up there.”
When asked about his ‘legacy,’ Cassady had to think a moment.
“I’m most proud that we’re at a point financially that we are in a secure position,” he said. “I’m pleased to leave on a high note.”
Cassady added that the SCP Board of Directors are ‘excellent’ members and tireless workers for the good of theater and the Sherman program.
“In addition, the talent pool is big and the audience is good,” he said. “I’m leaving the theater on top.”
For the past three months, Cassady has been working with new director, Anthony Nelson, who began working in January.
“He has his own style; his own ideas,” explained Cassady. “He will take this program far. He plans to do more marketing and reaching out further to the community.”
In addition to working with so many community actors, Cassady said that the ‘audiences’ were always good to him over the years. Finley Playhouse seats 215 audience members.
“Once you get them in here, it’s fun,” laughed Cassady. “They come back. Getting them here is the key.”
“We have such good audiences; I’ve grown to love them,” he added. “They have such nice things to say. It’s bittersweet; I’m going to miss the audiences, too.”