Summer Musical Enterprise (SME) is a non-profit community theater organization based in Blacksburg, Virginia. SME has produced a major musical theater production every summer since 1992, when we launched our organization with a presentation of The Music Man.
One of the things that makes Summer Musical Enterprise special is our commitment to providing youth and families with opportunities to engage in the theater arts. We try to select and cast productions with plenty of roles for adults, teens, and children, and we’ve been known to have entire families in our casts. The opportunity to involve youth in our shows provides a rich learning environment for kids and adults alike and strengthens the creative fabric of our community.
A Brief History of Our Founding
The Summer Musical Enterprise is an organization that had its early beginnings in the fall of 1991 by several local people who wanted to see the emergence of musical theatre in our community. Discussion of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man for the initial musical for production in August of 1992 provided much interest. This was felt to be an ideal musical because of it’s small town values, wonderful music and the timeless nature of its subject. Casual discussions between Ed Schwartz, Dan and Judy Schneck, Jim Moore and the Uncalled Four (Barbershop Quartet), and Linda Garrow began at the Wilderness Trail Festival in Christiansburg in the fall of 1991. Each of these people agreed to discuss the project with others that they knew. Late in October, a proposal was written by Ed Schwartz to provide a preliminary business plan in writing, that was eventually presented to several key entities around the New River Valley.
The proposal was first presented to the New River Arts Council (NRAC). The initial production board was formed as a committee under the auspices of the NRAC. This partnership provided an established group with financial, organizational, not-for-profit status, and publicity support. Once there was a not-for-profit organization requesting assistance, Dr. William Winfrey of the Blacksburg Department of Parks and Recreation was approached. Dr. Winfrey agreed to give the group a generous loan that was only to be repaid if money was made on the show. With this pledge in-hand, the committee was able to line up several other financial supporters. The backing of the NRAC also led to the securing of the performance facilities of the Squires Haymarket Theatre at Virginia Tech and Preston Auditorium at Radford University.
The final piece to the puzzle was to get a handle on the sets and technical issues. An arrangement was made with Weber-Prianti Productions in Delaware to rent the sets and a number of costumes and props for the show. This effectively provided all of the needed items to stage the show without starting from scratch from all areas. This provided a professional set that was easy to move from Tech to Radford and by needing to return it to Delaware solved the problem of having to store paints, hardware, and building supplies for subsequent productions.
Serious meetings began in the early spring as the details of the production began to fall into place. People were brought onto the team each week to fill key positions. Production meetings were held at houses of several of the early organizers. Others that became involved with the early stages of the production included John Howell, Russell Shock, Pat Horne, Richard and Kathleen Harshberger, GeorgAnne Voland-Buck, Charlotte Smith, Carter Edmondson, Sue and Clayton Williams, Marylou, Rev. Neil Early, Johann Norstead, Mike and Babs Ogliaruso, Sandra Stanwitz, and Ann Hess as Executive Producer.
With all of the necessary details in order, the auditions were held in the New River Valley Mall. The Community Room was used as the check-in area and for the dance auditions. An open store front was used to hold the acting and singing portions of the auditions. After the dust had settled, over 100 people had auditioned and it was clear that there was a desire for the community to perform in a large-scale musical. The other issue yet to be resolved is whether anyone would come to see the performance. This worry was unfounded, as the first four nights in Blacksburg were sold out!
The team organized an opening pool party at GeorgAnne and John Buck’s house in Radford. After a great spread of food and plenty of splashing around, the cast read through the show. Rehearsals began the following week at Christiansburg High School.
In the first five years of the organization, performances were produced for one weekend in the Haymarket Theatre in the Squires Student Center on the Virginia Tech campus (five performances, Wednesday through Sunday Matinee) and Labor Day weekend in Preston Auditorium on the Radford University campus (Thursday through Sunday Matinee). The first Sunday of the production required a load out of all sets, props, costumes, and furniture from Squires Haymarket Theatre, and load in to Preston Auditorium. The technical issues were addressed on the following Monday and Tuesday with a full run-through on Wednesday. The final Sunday Matinee required a load out of Preston Auditorium and everything needed to be returned where it came from.
By 1997, the arrangement with Radford changed and all performances (both weekends) were held at Haymarket Theatre at Virginia Tech. The performance dates were moved earlier in August to fit into Tech’s schedule (closing just prior to the start of classes). The first week was Thursday through Sunday and the second week ran Tuesday through Sunday for 10 performances. By 2002, the number of performances was cut back to eight, running Thursday through Sunday both weekends.
Although SME has had a large number of people come through its ranks over the years, there has always been a core group of people that have been heavily involved. Ed Schwartz and John Howell have been involved in some way shape or form in every show from the beginning and several others such as Ticket Master Bobby Perkins, Audio Engineer, Eric Carlson and Technical Consultant, Russell Shock have provided their special service to the organization for many years. Other long-time members (many with frequent leadership roles) include Jeff McCoy, Steve Brown, Charlotte Smith, Pat Horne and Bill Newton. There are also a few long-time members of the orchestra that give their time year after year. Ed Turner, Edie Carter, Amy Hall, and Karl Sanzenbach. Administratively, Mike Ogliaruso was a driving force in SME until 2002, when Robin Russell picked up the baton. Since then, there is a core group of people that have provided a consistency in operations.