Cast members rehearse for this weekend’s  production of Annie.

Cast members rehearse for this weekend’s production of Annie. 

GLADWIN – For the last 40 years Gladwin County has played host to a thriving theater program that brings four different productions to the community throughout each year. Gladwin Area Friends of the Theater (GAFT) is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, with a production of the musical theater classic, Annie, July 10-13. The production, with complex sets, a full pit orchestra, modern sound and lighting design, and stadium style audience seating is a far cry from where GAFT started 40 years ago when it premiered “Barefoot in the Park”, directed by the late Carl Benander on the racetrack of the County Fairgrounds. Though much has changed, one thing has remained – the love for theater. 

“When I first joined GAFT, I had no idea what it would eventually mean to me.” 13-year GAFT Veteran Cody Boyer said. “I met some of my greatest friends there and, ultimately, discovered my love for reaching a community and making some sort of difference. I think organizations like GAFT do just that: make a difference in a community.”

Community is the heart of GAFT, which relies on volunteers for all aspects of each production. GAFT proves that community theater is much more than the actors on stage, talent is also utilized in creating costumes, sets, music, programs, organization, and much more. “It’s not just about acting. Acting is like 5% of theater,” GAFT President Yvette Keast said. “We couldn’t do our productions without our parents who volunteer, our costumers who volunteer, our makeup people, our set construction people. It takes a huge village to make a show happen,” GAFT President Yvette Keast said. From the very beginning of GAFT there has been no experience required and they endeavor to be a place that is welcoming to all. 

“The best thing about theater is that theater is welcoming of all shapes, sizes, talents. Especially our community theater,” Keast said. “We don’t care if you’ve been on Broadway and you want to be here, we don’t care if you have no experience. We’ll show you the ropes and teach you what you have to know.”

As far as how GAFT has changed in the last 40 years, they’ve moved locations for one. In their humble beginnings they were outside at the County Fairgrounds, with no dressing rooms or other accommodations for the cast. Now GAFT is housed in the Community Center in the Gladwin City Park and has both an indoor stage for the Fall Drama, Winter Comedy, both the teen and youth productions, and an outdoor amphitheater for the Summer Musical. The building GAFT currently occupies is getting older and commonly floods each spring, as such they are currently looking into options to build a new theater building sometime in the near future. 

The new theater building will help to continue the legacy that GAFT has already built of bringing quality entertainment to the community that celebrates art, and challenges the thoughts of the audience. “In that we have not changed,” Long time GAFT Board Member and director Jacque Lott Mattes said, “But life and community culture changes everyday, and GAFT, by adding three new avenues of production ages/genres still wants to bring excellence in theatre performance but also wants to serve the changing culture by bringing not only the classics, but also controversial scripts to stage, reflective of the concerns we are facing today that did not exist 40 years ago.”

With such dedicated and passionate people working within GAFT, the theater company should be set to continue their growth and commitment to the arts for 40 more years and beyond. 

To find out more about GAFT, find them on Facebook at GAFT: Gladwin Area Friends of the Theater. Be sure not to miss their production of Annie. Tickets are $12 and are available at The Medicine Shoppe, Lyle’s Flowers, City Hall, Village Flowers and Gifts and Chamber of Commerce. In Beaverton: The Beaverton Pharmacy and Beaverton City Hall. You can also purchase tickets by phone by calling Yvette Keast 989-802-1771.

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