By Farrah Hamlett, USAG Baden-WuerttembergJuly 28, 2011
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- From a Tony nominated actor to young thespians gracing the stage for the first time, the Roadside Theater on Patton Barracks in Heidelberg has seen its share of talent since its inception in 1957.
The theater provides families with a much-needed outlet for expression.This summer, it is serving children participating in back-to-back theater workshops for which slots were sold out 30 minutes after being offered.
“Since 1989, when I began working for military theater, I have been amazed at the amount of talent in the military community,” said Andrew Meredith, director of the Off Main Street Theater at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim.
Meredith believes that the amount of variety in a military community keeps the Roadside Theater intriguing and interesting.
Meredith and Arianna Heck, director of the Summer Musical Theater Program sponsored by the Child, Youth and School Services, acknowledge the sacrifice and countless hours the actors, staff and family members put into making productions a success.
“I love theater and that enthusiasm is contagious,” said Heck. “I like kids to see that hard work will pay off. They learn to put on a show in eight days and the finished product is amazing. Many of the youth in the upcoming production are off book after receiving their script only five days ago.”
Meredith is sad to see the community theater slowly fizzle as families transition out of Heidelberg and the surrounding communities.
Meredith has already seen the effects of the change. As director of the Mannheim community theater, he now works at the Roadside Theater until the final curtain call.
The theater on Coleman Barracks is scheduled to put on two more shows but after that will close.
Meredith came to Germany in the ’80s with aspirations to backpack around Europe but by sheer accident ended up getting a job building scenery on Sullivan Barracks in Mannheim.
“It was on a Saturday that I got involved with the Army theater program and never stopped. I volunteered for two years and a position opened up and was offered to me on the spot. I was at the right place at the right time,” says Meredith.
Since then, volunteers have preserved the Roadside, recording more than 1,000 hours of time annually. They include a host of dedicated families that “are truly remarkable in the work they put in,” said Heck. She warns that this summer camp is not for the faint of heart.
“It’s an intensive workshop where kids have to learn to work in an ensemble and use team skills to put on a show in a limited amount of time.” Heck explained.
Military families are familiar with team skills, she said, because they are often required to work together to get through deployments and duty assignments.
Those circumstances create changes just like those portrayed in “Annie Jr.,” the culminating play performed by workshop theater participants.
“Many family members like to be involved when spouses are downrange because it gives them an outlet and they get to participate in something fun,” Meredith said.