PARKERSBURG - Community theater programs can provide people of all ages an outlet for their creativity, and in some younger ones can create an interest in pursuing show business as a career.
In Parkersburg, the two most active theater programs are the Parkersburg Actors Guild and the Smoot Theater.
The Guild produces a variety of shows each year, often with roles for people of all ages, and its Guild Builders program focuses on getting young people in the arts.
Photos by Wayne Towner
Cole Mazaher, right, performs with Shaileigh Plummer, left, in the Parkersburg Actors Guild performance of “All Shook Up” in July. Mazaher is currently pursuing a musical theater degree in college.
The Smoot's offerings include Camp Vaudeville for children and Camp Broadway for teens, among others.
Those programs have helped encourage at least two young people from the Mid-Ohio Valley to pursue dreams of show business, among many others past, present and future.
Cole Mazaher, of Zanesville, is studying musical theater in a four-year program at Kent State University, where he is a sophomore this year.
Mazaher said he has been doing theater since he was 12 years old. He originally dreamed of moving to Los Angeles and getting into films, but when he became involved in community theater in the Mid-Ohio Valley, he realized he really loved musical theater.
"For me, it's more involved, it's instant gratification," he said.
When he decided to pursue an entertainment career, Mazaher thought about moving to New York as many do and trying to break into show business. However, while he was comfortable with his acting talents, he decided he needed more voice and dance training if he wanted to do it professionally.
After discussing the issues with family and friends, some of whom have worked professionally on Broadway and elsewhere, he chose Kent State and has been taking professional level classes in voice, dance and acting.
Mazaher said there is a big difference between having a career in entertainment and being famous. He believes he has what is needed to make a career in show business, but also knows about the importance of luck, contacts and other factors.
Mazaher just wants to work in the entertainment field, he said.
"If I'm in the back row of the ensemble for the rest of my life and I'm getting paid for it, I'll be a happy guy," he said.
He started in Zanesville area community theater and then joined the Camp Broadway program at the Smoot at a friend's urging. His father, Mitch Mazaher, has appeared in several Parkersburg Actors Guild productions and Mazaher made his first Guild appearance in the musical, "All Shook Up."
Mazaher believes those programs, especially the youth theater activities at the Smoot, helped prepare him for his future goals by providing a good foundation.
Parkersburg resident Lienn Swearingen graduated last May from Shenandoah Conservatory with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater.
Swearingen said one of the first shows she can remember doing was the Missoula Children's Theater program at the Smoot, when they did "Treasure Island" in 2000. It was a fun experience and gave her a place to focus her energies, she said.
"Something about it stuck with me and I kept going back," Swearingen said.
Over the years, she did the Smoot programs, including Camp Vaudeville, and also participated in the Guild Builders youth theater program at the Parkersburg Actors Guild. She also studied dance and voice locally.
When the Smoot began its teen program, initially called Arts Link and later renamed Camp Broadway, Swearingen got involved in it as well. She believes Camp Broadway did more than anything else to prepare her for what she wanted to do in the future, by showing her a glimpse of what it would be to work in show business in real life.
"Camp Broadway gives an excellent foundation for anyone wanting to pursue a theater degree," she said, adding she might not have finished her college degree without the experience and things she learned through Camp Broadway.
"Theater's not for the weak, you can't go into theater thinking it's going to be fun," Swearingen said.
There is a lot of hard work involved in breaking into a show business career, with all of the fun things people associate with it coming after years of work, if ever.
Looking ahead, Swearingen said she plans to attend a mass audition in February in Memphis. Such auditions can involve thousands of performers and anywhere from 50 to 300 companies looking to hire them. The companies range from cruise ships to small theaters to national tours, making it a great place to start in the business, she said.
Beyond that, Swearingen said she doesn't have any specific plans, although she would eventually like to work in the Washington, D.C., area, although New York City is also a possibility.