Brother-sister Team Try to Plant Interest in Theater in The Colony

Tish Mussey and her brother Martin grew up as army brats, moving frequently and learning that their shared love of theater gave them an identity and something to do together wherever they were. When the siblings ended up in The Colony, now with their own families, they found there wasn't a theater company there. So they started their own community theater, The Colony Playhouse, in 2009.

Now Tish is artistic director and Martin is board president. They both have day jobs but spend evenings and weekends holding open auditions and rehearsing and performing plays. They produced four last year and currently are working on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, directed by Martin, opening December 9 for six performances over two weekends at the new Lewisville Arts Center.

Wait, The Colony Playhouse has to perform in Lewisville?

"That's the tricky thing," says Tish. "We don't have our own home stage. We've been doing shows here and there. This summer we did Schoolhouse Rock Live at The Colony High School and we've used Hebron High School, too. We go wherever we can find a space."

Now in their third season, the Musseys are trying to build a bigger following among families, both as patrons and participants.

"Our idea is that theater is something families can do together," says Tish. "In this Christmas show we have one parent in the cast and one or two children in it with them. Our tech director's son is a whiz at the light and sound board."

Getting kids interested in the technical side of theater -- lighting, sound, scenic and costume design -- is a special goal for this group. Says Tish, "There are so many places kids can go to be in a show. We want to encourage kids who are technicians and designers and who don't necessarily want to be onstage."

Tish, who used to work on the professional props team at Dallas Theater Center, says she and Martin look at Dallas Children's Theater, with its high production standards and family-focused programming, as a model. One obstacle to getting her neighbors in The Colony interested in attending or participating is that there isn't much live theater nearby. The closest professional theater is WaterTower in Addison, with other small community troupes in Lewisville and Plano. "The attitude up here is kind of if it's past 635, it's too far to go. We want to change that," says Tish.

The other problem, says Tish, is the competition for after-school time from kids' team sports. "There are so many opportunities for peewee football and soccer and volleyball. Why shouldn't kids also have time for the arts? I have an 11-year-old who's not a sports kid. You need a wide variety of things for kids to participate in, particularly theater. A lot of people get involved in it and don't make it a way of life. But it's still a great experience. It's a confidence builder and a way for people of any age to experience their artistic side. One thing I've learned since moving to The Colony three years ago is that you have to emphasize, even with theater, that we're working together as a team."

So far, the Musseys' theater has produced some children's plays and a commedia dell'arte piece for teens. Tish says they'd like to introduce some Shakespeare, maybe one of the comedies. And they want more grown-ups involved. "We don't get many adults at the auditions," she says. "We want moms, dad, kids, everyone."

Tish says she knows from experience how meaningful theater can be for children and how perceptive they are about what they see. "I was working on a production of Othello when my daughter was about 5. We were in tech rehearsals and it was about midnight and the actors were doing the last scene. My daughter looks up at me and says, `That guy's lying.' She'd been paying attention. I'd love all kids to have a chance to do that."

The Colony Playhouse production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever opens at 7 p.m., December 9, at the Lewisville Arts Center, 100 N. Charles St., Lewisville. Tickets, $8-$10, can be purchased at 972-625-1726 or thecolonyplayhouse.org.

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