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From 1966 to 1982, theatrical company staged many hits
Thomson Players

S lightly more than 40 years ago, Thomson had an active theatrical company, called the Thomson Players.

Formed in April, 1966, the group appeared to be just what the community wanted. In October of that same year, they put on their first production "Never Too Late." The three-act comedy was about a middle-aged couple who were surprised to be expecting a baby.

Newspaper stories kept in a scrapbook by charter member Billie Thomas revealed the show was a big hit.

Held in the old Laura Jones Junior High School, the play was directed by Bonnie Pirkle, who was a member of the Augusta Players. The cast member list included Doris Hunt, Pace McCorkle, Sr., Billie Thomas, John Dyer, Guill Johnson, Roberta Wells, Campbell Irving and Estill Jones.

The stage, technical and publicity staff included Pat Wall, Jim DeBonis, Clarise Bowles, Percy Dozier, Pete Hunt, John Lemley, W.A. Bentley, Jan Morris, Pat Lemley, Helen Heery, Arlene DeBonis, Gay Knox, Vivian Williams and Bill Johnson.

Mr. Debonis was president of the Players, Mrs. Wall was secretary and Mrs. Thomas was treasurer. Pace McCorkle became the second president.

"When he started, Pace McCorkle was very shy and had never done anything like that," Mrs. Thomas said. "But, when he joined the theater, he just opened up and became a beautiful flower."

The scenes continued to roll along and the Players averaged three to four plays per year, usually popular musicals or comedies. In 1970, they purchased the old theater on Journal Street and members of the group did all the remodeling work themselves. The name of the new theater was the Gaslight Theater.

Shortly after that, the group expanded to include a Children's Theater, with a first showing of "Tom Sawyer," also directed by Ms. Pirkle.

As the only surviving charter member of the Thomson Players, Mrs. Thomas talks fondly of happy memories and laughs when she tells how some participants seemed to take on a different personality off the stage.

Her favorite production was "Everybody Loves Opal," in which she played the part of an old bag lady.

"It was so emotional, a very sensitive play," she said. "I cried every day because it was very touching."

Mrs. Thomas said her character's cat died in the play. But at the last curtain call, she came out carrying the cat.

"And all the children applauded and cheered because they thought it had died," she said. "I will always remember that."

The original membership of the group changed and the newness wore off in the community about the same time their mortgage bills were building up on the new theater. Attendance dropped, even though the group tried to continue to offer only popular shows and comedies.

An Augusta Chronicle article dated December, 1975, revealed the nonprofit organization had hit hard times and needed more support to continue.

"Then along came Elma Jacobs, her husband became the administrator at the hospital," Mrs. Thomas said. "She was the most theatrical-minded person. She eats, sleeps and breathes it, and she brought it back to life."

But it didn't last long. The Thomson Players lost ownership of the Gaslight Theater in 1982. Their last production in the Gaslight was "Solid Gold Cadillac."

Two years later, they tried to revamp and put on "Steel Magnolias" in August, 1994 at Thomson Middle School. The play was highly attended due to the popularity of the movie.

"We even made gobs of money on it," Mrs. Thomas said.

"But, it wasn't enough to keep us going."

Although the date is not known, the group presented their first and only Little Theater Scholarship to Harry Reeves, son of Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Reeves. Harry was a Thomson High School senior who planned to major in drama at Shorter College.

In 2007, a reunion was held for all Thomson Players. Mike Wall, of WTHO Radio, interviewed those in attendance and aired a news story.



Web posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010













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