By Cathy Johnson
Many locals mark their summer calendars for two of the longest standing traditions here in Big Rapids: the Ferris Community Summer Band concerts and the annual Stage M summer musical. The band is currently celebrating its 51st season and is undoubtedly pretty unique both in its longevity and it make-up. Other communities may have outdoor music performance facilities and traditions or a gazebo in the park, but our community is fortunate to have this long-running artistic program which delights performers of all ages as well as the audiences.
The tradition of theater in the summer here in Big Rapids predates Stage M, which is celebrating its 36th season. Stage M has produced its summer musicals in all of the local theater venues, which include Williams Auditorium and the auditoriums of both high schools in town.
But before there was a Stage M, there existed an entity called the Ferris Summer Playhouse. Long-time residents will remember Lyle Mayer, former theater director at Ferris, who spearheaded the concept of theater in the summer as well as during the academic year, and produced numerous cooperative ventures with both students in summer school at Ferris and local residents.
And, for a short time, two seasons maybe, there was also a production company called the Blue Valley Summer Theater. With a small core group of actors and technicians, they pitched a big white tent, similar to a Chautauqua tent, on property west of town and brought the idea of summer repertory theater to this area. Local residents enthusiastically participated as well.
So when Stage M was founded in the early 1980s, both of those earlier theatrical efforts were still fresh in the minds of local theater goers and doers, which no doubt helped Stage M to gain a foothold in the community, as its goals were to provide community theater year-round. Thirty-six years later, Stage M continues to provide opportunities for actors, singers, musicians, tech people and enthusiastic audience members to experience heartfelt productions of Broadway musicals, stage dramas and children’s theater, giving local residents great enjoyment.
This weekend Stage M is presenting its production of “South Pacific.” No packing a suitcase and making reservations on a cruise ship are required to enjoy this tropical treat, just a ticket to the production at Big Rapids High School.
And know that your friends and neighbors who participate in either Stage M’s productions or the Ferris Community Summer Band appreciate your attendance and support. Big Rapids may be a small town, but it has a big heart and BIG ART!