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Totally East Texas: Tyler Civic Theatre wowing crowds for decades

East Texas is home to a bustling theater community turning out stage productions and musicals for more than 70 years now.

TYLER, Texas — When you think bright lights, you may think big city, but you may want to consider the Rose City. The theater has deep roots in East Texas.

"Tyler Little Theatre was formed in 1927," said DeAnna Hargrove, Managing Director of Tyler Civic Theatre.

World War II briefly halted local stage shows by the Tyler Little Theatre, but like many great productions, there was a revival in 1949. "The theater is a reflection of the community. It's an artistic outlet," said Hargrove. Thanks to volunteers, donors and community support, the Tyler Civic Theatre was born.

DeAnna Hargrove is the managing director of the Tyler Civic Theatre. "In fact, we are sitting on The Rogers Children's Theatre Stage, also known as the Al Gilliam stage, named after our founder. He designed it in 1948, this theatre in the round concept. We were the one of the first 6 theaters in the round in North America. We are now the oldest continuously operating theater in the round in North America, so there's a lot of history right here," Hargrove said.

Over several decades, many talented actors, directors, musicians and crews have graced the Tyler stage. Young students in both the Acting Conservatory and S.T.A.R. Summer Camps get their first taste of performing at the Rogers Children's Theatre.

"I often tell new parents," Hargrove said, "Not all of these children will pursue a career in the performing arts, but they will all have to represent their business or company, teach a Sunday School class, give a sales pitch or a persuasive argument of some kind. Theater gives them the poise and confidence to do that."

Or maybe even chase their dreams closer to home on a bigger stage, The Braithwaite Theatre which celebrates 20 years in 2020.

"I think they would be surprised, shocked to know the level of talent that exists right here in Tyler," said Megan Magill, Artistic Director of 'Dreamgirls'.

Megan Magill is part of the dream team, along with George Faber who are directing the Tyler Civic Theatre's most recent production, 'Dreamgirls'. 

"To have the opportunity to do something in the community, is always a pleasure and I consider it an opportunity," George Faber said. 

An opportunity to work with teachers, preachers, moms and dads who want a shot to express themselves creatively, outside of work or home. That's something Faber, the musical director has been doing since he first tickled the ivories as a young child and then shared with with students during his 35 years with Tyler ISD.

"We have people who are incredible singers, but they've never acted or they've acted, but never really sung. So, this gives them a chance to get out there in a friendly atmosphere and try to do something they've never done and to do a production of this caliber, takes quite a bit," Faber said.

"It is a huge sacrifice for the cast," Magill said.

Magill, the artistic director understands the commitment, after performing all over the country and working as an actress in New York.

"I say 8 weeks, but that's not 8 weeks of all day rehearsals. That is what we really need, but you have to keep in mind these actors are volunteering. They have 9 to 5 jobs. Some of them have multiple jobs," Magill said. 

But they all share something special — a passion for performing. "Once you get a taste and you actually go and sit in the audience, you see live theater. It can be life-changing," according to Magill.

Of course, none of the plays or musical productions would be possible without the volunteers and donors who help keep the community theater running.

If you want to catch 'Dreamgirls' at Tyler Civic Theatre, the wait is almost over. Mark your calendars for February 14th - 16th and the 20th - 23rd.

Friday and Saturday, the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday is a 2:30 matinee.