‘Show will go on,’ determined members say|[6/27/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Grief and determination were both on display by members of the Vicksburg Theatre Guild Monday after their 29-year-old Parkside Playhouse was damaged by fire and props and costumes were lost to smoke and flames.

&#8220It’s like seeing a family member in dire distress,” said Jim Miller of the scene – 50 to 60 people in the parking lot at Iowa and Confederate avenues crying and hugging.

The room with the most damage is believed to be where props from &#8220Gold in the Hills,” the world’s longest running melodrama, were stored. &#8220Gold” was to open its 71st season next Friday and it will – somewhere and perhaps a little later – members said.

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&#8220We were scheduled to begin next weekend and our goal is not to open much later than that,” said Garrett Wallace, who has been involved with the theater since 1992.

Miller portrays the villain, Richard Murgatroyd, in &#8220Gold,” noted in the Guiness Book of World Records for its record run. The play began in 1936 in Vicksburg, not long after the Vicksburg Theatre Guild was chartered as the state’s first amateur theatrical troupe.

For Miller, one of his lines from Act III of the melodrama rings true – &#8220Curses,” he said.

Today’s players must now confront setbacks previous members also faced. In April 1974, fire destroyed the Sprague, a sternwheel towboat berthed at City Front and used as the stage for &#8220Gold” in the 1960s and early-’70s. Years later, the old Bowmar Avenue Baptist Church on Bowmar Avenue, that housed VTG for years, also went up in flames. The guild had already moved to its current location when the fire occurred. Parkside Playhouse was constructed as the guild’s first state-of-the art home in 1977, with the first performance in 1978.

It is unimpressive from the outside, with simple concrete block lines outlining the interior’s seating, stage and fly areas.

&#8220There is a lot of history in this building – for an awful lot of people in this city,” Wallace said.

Membership fees and ticket sales fund each season of plays. VTG received a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission earlier this year to renovate portions of the building. The first phase, painting the exterior, was completed in March.

One of the items thought to be lost in the fire is a &#8220Gold in the Hills” sign from the days that the production was staged from the Sprague.

&#8220We won’t give up easily,” Wallace said.

He added that members are looking for a place to have &#8220Gold,” but no decision has been made yet.

&#8220We have people tracking that down right now,” he said. &#8220It will go on somewhere.”

The next season of VTG is scheduled to begin with Neil Simon’s &#8220God’s Favorite,” this fall.

&#8220We’re going to get back up – no question – on Sept. 23 – right here,” Wallace said. &#8220We will need continued support of the community and renewed support from past members.”

Miller said he knows the show will go on because of the family feel of the group.

&#8220Being involved in plays and productions, you get so emotionally involved,” he said. &#8220It’s an emotional experience. There are people who consider this their world.”

He is no different.

&#8220It’s family – it’s home,” he said.