Thespians from across the United States and U.S. Armed Forces families abroad have come together in Gettysburg for a week of conferences, workshops, and live theater.
The occasion is AACTFest, the American Association of Community Theatre’s biannual festival that kicked off Tuesday with an opening ceremony at the Gettysburg Majestic Theater.
Jeffrey Gable, founding director of the Majestic Theater, welcomed the enthusiastic crowd by reviewing the history of the theater, beginning with its origins as a vaudeville venue.
Gable explained how President Eisenhower came to the movies in the theater and noted the Majestic premiered the Hollywood movie “Gettysburg.”
Gable thanked Gettysburg Community Theatre Artistic and Founding Executive Director Chad-Alan Carr for hosting the festival. Carr’s idea to bring the event to Gettysburg was “brilliant and audacious,” said Gable.
“It’s pretty exciting to have all of this here. The hotels are quite full and the B&Bs are full of these theater folk looking for places to shop and dine,” said Carr.
The opening program was performed by youth and adult volunteers from the Gettysburg Community Theatre. The actors entered the stage carrying flags from each of the 50 states and the U.S. territories.
Actors portrayed a stark meeting of the Union and Confederate armies, followed by a reading of the Gettysburg Address by Scott Hartwig.
The entire cast then sang “For the Glory,” with a soaring solo by a community theater teacher and director, Carrie Trax.
The U.S. flag was presented by veterans from Adams County and the audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
The audience also listened to a video message from a star of the theater world, American composer, lyricist, actor, playwright, and television producer Lyn-Manuel Miranda. Miranda is widely known for creating and starring in the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Addressing the crowd, Miranda recalled some of the many roles he had played in community theaters.
“Community theater teaches about collaboration and leads you to go past yourself,” he said.
Also staged during the opening night festivities were two plays, “The Pillowman,” performed by the Tacoma, Wash., Little Theatre, and “Walking with my Ancestors,” performed by the Coalescence Theatre Project of Bloomington, Ill.
The shows are not full-scale productions, but cuttings of longer works to fit into a shorter time frame. Each company is given 10 minutes to set up, 60 minutes to perform, and 10 minutes to strike their set and props, all of which must to fit in a 10-by-10-foot square on the stage.
After each performance, a panel of judges reviews and offers comments to the cast about their performances.
In addition to 12 adult performances, each by award-winning theater companies, six Youthfest performances are also being presented.
“I thought when we were searching for these youth companies I was going to find a lot of fairy tale shows like Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty and things like that. But I was very surprised that the companies were doing really heavy intense work,” said Carr, who is serving as the youth coordinator for the festival.
Performances by the youth companies include a version of George Orwell’s “1984” and a show, “Lockdown,” in which students are in a classroom with a teacher and don’t know if it is a drill or real.
“It’s just very interesting, relevant work for today’s times and I’m very pleased with the youth of America that is stepping up to do this work,” said Carr.
As one audience member put it, AACT is “edgy stuff,” which is “making Gettysburg cool.”
Tickets for all performances, which continue daily through Saturday, are available to the public at the Majestic Box Office.