By Kimber Fountain, Photos by Christa Schreckengost
It is interesting to ponder the ancient storytellers, those orators of legend who were the first to satiate the innate human desire to be entertained. Their myths and tales captured minds and imaginations, and ignited a movement that would eventually evolve into one of man’s longest-standing institutions: theatre. The oldest use of dramatic structure has been found among Ancient Egyptian ruins, which emerged from the evolution of myths into rituals and religious ceremonies. Modern theatre as we know it, however, originated in 6th century Greece, specifically Athens, when a governmental initiation of new public festivals included a series of competitions centered on the performing arts. Categories included dancing, singing and music, but the poetry competition is where the magic happened. The stage was full of aspiring poets with lackluster recitations and lifeless delivery, when onto it bounded Thespis, a man whose energetic physicality and various character voices astounded audiences and propelled him, and theatre, into the literal spotlight.
Since then theatre, in one way or another, has made its way across every continent and has imbedded itself into every culture. It was once the most influential and sought-after artistic medium in the world, and it has stood by like a patient stalwart as its scion, film, has steadily overtaken its influence and popularity. Amid predictions of its demise and with its necessity in question, the staying power of theatre has proven itself again and again, and continues to do so right in the heart of downtown Galveston.
Island East-End Theatre Company, known affectionately as ETC, began as a small troupe of actors who banded together to start their own theatre in 2002. The only remaining member of those original actors is Kim Mytelka, the Artistic Director of ETC and also its lifeblood, as she not only handles the daily operations of running a 501(c)(3) organization, but also produces and directs most of the shows. A native Galvestonian, Kim says with a smile, “I left three times never to come back, but finally I had to admit I’m a sand-in-the-toes kind of a girl.” She attended Stephen F. Austin University where she obtained both a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and Master’s degree in theatre. After working with The Strand Street Theatre for five years, she left Galveston and chose to focus on her family. Then in 2001, her last return to the Island came with an offer to be a guest director for The Strand Street Theatre’s production of “Cabaret.” “It was a little out of the blue, I hadn’t done anything in years, so it was an honor to be back.”
She did a few more productions with The Strand Street Theatre, but decided together with some fellow actors to break off and form a company of their own. Island ETC was incorporated in 2002; their first building was at the location of 20th Street and Postoffice St., directly across from The Grand Opera House. “We took out a ten thousand dollar loan and had a fundraiser, and everyone asked us, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’” Kim remembers. “But [Director of The Grand] Maureen Patton was really instrumental to us in those first years; her support had a big impact. You would think most people would not want another theatre so close to theirs, but Maureen never felt that way. She was happy to have us there and was always willing to help.”
Now proudly entering its thirteenth year and twelfth season as a non-profit organization and theatre, Island ETC perpetuates that generosity through their own operations. Not only do they provide Galveston with sparkling entertainment and the thrill of live theatre, they also contribute a portion of the proceeds of one entire show per season to a local non-profit organization. And, “…our actors have always been paid,” Kim says, “we pay what is called a competitive living wage, it’s not a huge amount but a lot of my actors come from off the Island, so there are travel expenses involved, and it means a lot to me that they don’t have to pay to be in a show.” This places ETC in the semi-professional category of theatres, “a lot of people think we are a community theatre but we aren’t. This is a professional atmosphere, and it’s a great place. It is a good opportunity for people who maybe haven’t been in a show in a while and want to give it a shot again, but it is also a stepping stone for actors who want to go on and do other things. Or if you just want to work a crew, it is a small obligation, but it is a great chance to be around people who are really dedicated to what they do.”
Season 12 is comprised entirely of some of the company’s most popular past productions, perfect for a second chance if you missed it the first time, or a second showing if you loved it. Currently playing at Island ETC is “Sweet Charity,” the first production of the 2014-1015 season. “Sweet Charity” was actually the last show of our very first season, and it was only the second musical we had ever done,” says Kim. The current production includes several special appearances. The lead role is played by ETC’s first-ever equity contract actor, and two local Galvestonians, Frank Petronella and Michael Womeo, will be reprising their original roles from ETC’s first production of “Sweet Charity” over ten years ago. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm through August 16th, with two Sunday matinees on July 27th and August 3rd at 2:30pm.
The remainder of the ETC season is slated to provide Galveston theatre-goers with plenty to make them laugh, cry, sing, or dance and includes many high-profile favorites and a limited run of one of their most popular shows to date, “The Dixie Swim Club” (September 12th through September 27th). Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show” (October 31st-November 29th) is a cult classic and the perfect way to celebrate the Halloween season (this show not recommended for children). For their benefit production, ETC presents “The Vagina Monologues” (January 16th, 17th, 23rd, and 24th); part of the proceeds from ticket sales will be used to enrich another local non-profit organization. A re-energized version of “Godspell” takes the stage to usher in the spring (February 27th-March 28th). The revamped score includes the popular hit from the movie version, “Beautiful City,” as well as all the original favorites with a touch more of rock n’ roll. The final production of the 2014-2015 season will be “I Ought to Be in Pictures” (April 24th-May 16th) and will feature a guest director.
Island East-End Theatre Company
2317 Mechanic Street, downtown Galveston, www.islandetc.org
For tickets & information call (409)762-3556 or (888)762-3556
Individual Tickets: $27 Adults, $22 Seniors
Season Tickets: $135 Adults, $110 Seniors