Face time: Andy Turner — creating a safe place through theater

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Andy Turner made his stage debut in 1986 starring in “The Music Man.” He didn’t return to the stage until 1996. Since then, however, he’s been a prominent figure in community theater: He’s directed eight major musicals, two plays and acted in 15 shows. He’s heavily involved in the Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association, with his most recent production being “Little Women,” a musical he directed and produced at Telstar High School in Bethel. In Turner’s opinion, everyone can benefit from community theater.

Name: Andy Turner

Age: 50

Hometown: Oxford

Why do you think it’s important for children and young adults to be involved in theater? Theater is no different for children than it is for adults when it comes to the value of their involvement. It unavoidably forces participants to sign on to a social pact. A contract among people who desire to entertain audiences. Another value is that community theater tends to blanch out all the stains that one faces in the world and allows a person — young or old — to enter a sort of “safe world.” A place to escape and be part of something enriching. Therein lies the beauty of theater for me. In terms of participation, whether as an actor or director, anyone can come to it and take part. Regardless of age, experience or talent, there is a place for you in community theater. It’s an egalitarian art form. It allows one to jump in and become fully immersed in a very receptive and enriching subculture of humanity. Together, as one. All equal. I can’t think of another profession or art form that does that. And that’s the importance of live, local theater.

When did you realize acting/directing was your calling, and how did you come to that realization? The moment I was cast in “The Rainmaker” as an adult living in Vermont. I had always wanted to try theater after my first show in high school, but never got up the nerve. At least not until I was nearly 30 and a co-worker sort of offhandedly mentioned one day that he was auditioning for a play. I asked to tag along. I thought perhaps I would help out backstage, maybe. Be a stagehand. The director forced me to audition. And I got a part. Similarly for directing. A good friend was directing the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” and asked if I might want to co-direct. It was really assistant directing, given my complete lack of directing experience, but after that show I knew I would do it again.

What has been your favorite production so far, and why? My favorite as an actor is perhaps “Enchanted April,” which was produced by OHMPAA and directed by Linda Sturdivant, who is now the artistic director at City Theater in Biddeford. It was my first non-comedic role and a very lush one at that. It helped me break out of being typecast as a clown. Up until then I’d acted in shows as the comic relief character. My favorite as a director so far would be last year’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a musical I did for OHMPAA. Probably the most well-rounded cast I’ve ever directed, and a show that virtually no one knew, but everyone raved about.

Your most recent production is “Little Women,” the musical, at Telstar High School in Bethel. Can you talk a little about the process of putting a show together, and the challenges/rewards of working with students? This is my first production working strictly with students. And, while every show is different from the last, and every show presents itself with different challenges, a high school production has the added problems associated with school schedules. On top of that, this production had a rehearsal schedule a month shorter than what I like to rehearse, making it a much more demanding and rigorous animal to have to tame. However, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I have a cast and crew of 13, all of whom are under the age of 17 and range from one junior down to one sixth-grader. Only one has been in a major production, so essentially I was faced with the daunting task of creating a major musical production with all newbies. They’ve been fantastic. They’ve worked hard, applied themselves and have done everything I’ve asked of them. I couldn’t be more proud.

You’ve worked with both adults and children in producing plays. What are some differences you notice between the two age groups in terms of focus, talent, dedication, etc? There are striking similarities, and striking differences. I have found that you can’t approach directing in terms of differences in maturity by age, but rather differences in maturity by experience. What I mean is, stage craft comes from something you work hard on and develop. And then there are those who are just imbued with a natural talent for it. I’ve seen 13- year-olds audition for me who’ve never been in a show and you would never have known it. I’ve worked with middle-aged adults who have done a few shows and still struggle with the basics. I’ve had teenagers quit because they could not commit to the hard work, and I’ve had adults do the same. Conversely, I’ve had high school students with no experience engage so fully and with so much energy that I’ve had to do very little hand-holding. I’ve seen that with grown-ups as well.

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Andy Turner photo

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