By Keith PannellDecember 13, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- A way to meet people, get involved with a creative project and maybe spend a few minutes in the spotlight are three things that draw people to KMC Onstage in the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
The KMC Onstage is a community theater funded by the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. There are 13 such Army community theaters in Europe, including eight in Germany, three in Italy and one each in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Each theater has an executive director and, maybe, a small staff, but like all community theaters around the world, the bulk of the work is done by volunteers.
"We wouldn't be able to put on a single production or sell a single ticket without volunteers," said Eric Danzeiser, KMC Onstage artistic director. "Volunteers are the theater's lifeblood and we're always looking for more volunteers."
Naythen Rinehart, who recently played the title role in "Young Frankenstein," said being on stage is only the most visible part of theater. There are many more "roles" for a volunteer to play.
"You can help build the sets, learn how to do lights or learn sound design," he said. "There are chances for new directors to direct smaller shows, there are opportunities to learn theater make-up, there are just a lot of things other than acting."
KMC Onstage has 12 productions a year between two facilities. The main stage, for larger productions is on Kleber Kaserne. Smaller, more intimate shows are held at the Kaiserslautern Community Activities Center on Daenner Kaserne.
The 12 shows include five musicals, two children's shows and one adults-only show, according to Danzeiser. The theater is currently finishing up its sold-out run of "Elf Jr. The Musical" while in the middle of rehearsals for "Footloose," which will run every weekend in February on the main stage. Meanwhile, "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress" is also in rehearsal and will run in the studio on Daenner Kaserne the last two weekends of January.
Matt Davis, a garrison employee who has been working with KMC Onstage more than three years, said theater is a great way to meet people.
"Theater is an amazing outlet, and the relationships we make with our fellow cast and crew members are closer, at times, than family. These days, most of my friends are from the theater," he said.
Davis' daughter, Becca, has also been volunteering with the program more than three years, as a director and choreographer.
"I've always enjoyed doing theater because it's a great creative outlet, but now that I've been doing it at the same theater for so long, it's also the main place I see a lot of my friends," she said.
For those who have never been involved in theater but may be interested or who are good with a power drill, hammer and paint brush, Danzeiser said KMC Onstage offers numerous educational opportunities for all ages.
"We teach under-18 summer camp for two weeks and a 10-week course in the spring for kids," he said. "We have workshops throughout the year for adults on group improv, stage managing, directing, auditioning, acting and more."
Air Force Staff Sgt. Megan Qualls stepped into the KMC Onstage world for the first time after auditioning and landing a lead role in the production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" shadowcast performance in October.
"I absolutely loved performing with KMC Onstage," Qualls said. "It was a blast learning a brand new skill and culture --and what a culture the Rocky Horror Picture Show is-- while making new friends. It was a lot of hard work, and the attitudes everyone brought made the experience a huge success. I can't wait to do another show."
Even though the actors and most of the stagehands are volunteers, KMC Onstage came away with two awards at the One Page/One Act Theater Festival, for military community theaters only, in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Danzeiser and his team won the awards for Best Community Showcase and Best Military Performers.
Last March, in a Tony Awards-style competition called the Topper Awards, KMC Onstage did very well in a competition where judges from the United States watch shows in every military community theater.
"This past year we took 12 awards. They ranged from Best Lighting, Best Set Design, Best Costumes and Best Choreography to Best Actress and Best Military Actress," Danzeiser said.
Danzeiser added community theater is a great place for perfect strangers to come together, onstage or behind the scenes, to make magic happen.
"Except for outdoor recreation opportunities, there are few things in this community that are really suitable for parents and kids to do together," he said. "It is such a growing experience for a child to see how parents and other adults handle responsibilities, how a show comes together. These are memories that will last a lifetime for both the child and the parents."
And once the show comes together and is performed before an audience, the hope is all the hard work pays off.
"I hope the audience simply enjoys their night at the show. If it's a musical, I hope the songs get stuck in their heads. If it's a drama, I hope they are moved by the actors' performances. And if it's a comedy, I hope they laugh so hard they have tears in their eyes," added Becca Davis.
Auditions for "Anatomy of a Murder" are Jan. 27 and 28 at the KMC Onstage on Kleber Kaserne, Building 3232. For more information visit the KMC Onstage Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/kmconstage/
(Mary Dell Rosario contributed to this story)