The People's Tribune

Actress Reinvigorates Clarksville Theater

One look is all it took for Mary Lang Fournier to fall in love with Clarksville and the Apple Shed Theatre.

The actress and director hopes to revive the performance center’s thespian tradition, and she’s getting things going with a production of “The Last Romance.” The comedy centers on a couple who falls in love at a dog park, and will be staged Nov. 3, 4, 9 and 10. The Apple Shed is on Highway 79 at the south edge of Clarksville.

“There is nothing more exciting to me than to see the arts blossom,” Fournier said. “We have so many stories to tell, so many pots to stir.”

Fournier and her husband, Ricky, moved to Clarksville from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to escape what she calls “the concrete jungle.” Ricky was searching online and found a restored church in which they now live.

A visit to the Raintree Arts Council’s annual Encore performance last spring convinced the Fourniers they had made the right decision.

“We put it on our calendar and went,” Fournier said. “Had a ball. We saw a community that was begging for entertainment and an excuse to come together. When I discovered that there was a theater sitting waiting for me, it was game on.”

Fournier got the OK from the Raintree board to move forward. Her theater group is called The Changelings.

Apple Shed shows date to the 1979, when the Mallin family donated the former processing facility and warehouse to Raintree for use as a cultural center. Patrons usually could count on at least one big performance every summer, but productions have been limited for about six years.

The venue still hosts annual concerts by Cornet Chop Suey and the Winter Blues Sweet Cure duo of Jerry Epperson and Pat Joyce, and there is an art show during Clarksville Applefest.

Fees from wedding receptions, an annual grant from the Missouri Arts Council, proceeds from Clarksville’s Show-Me Missouri State Chili Cook-Off each year and ticket revenue help to pay the bills. The latest project is replacement of the roof. About $22,000 of the $27,000 cost has been raised and some work has been done.

Fournier says she plans to honor the facility’s history and “build on the shoulders of performances past.” One way she’s doing so is by casting Raintree President Judi Bruce in “The Last Romance” as Roe.

“Bringing theater alive again is essential and most exciting for Raintree Arts Council,” said Bruce, who has directed productions and worked with professional actors in the past. “For theater to exist, you need all the components for success – the directors, stage crew, light and sound crew, the actors, but most importantly an audience to appreciate and support the theater.”

Fournier has grown used to the building – which is nearing its 100th anniversary – and what she calls its “character,” even though that includes “dust” and “critters.”

Raintree’s assistance is “a huge blessing,” she says, and members “have been instrumental in showing me the Pike County ropes. The fact that they have non-profit status will be huge in grants. They are an established, respected entity here, and we are blessed to be part of that.”

Ricky Fournier and Laurel Norton star in “The Last Romance.” Dillon Carl rounds out the cast, but the play also features Diezel, a dog that’s an alumnus of the Pike County animal rescue group Diva’s Wish.

“We want to help raise awareness for this great organization,” Fournier said. “We are part of the community, and it is our joy and duty to help the whole community.”

To that end, patrons at the Nov. 9 performance will be asked to pay only what they can afford. If they can’t afford regular price, that’s fine. Tickets are $15 for the Nov. 3 and 10 performances at 7 p.m. and $10 for the matinee at 2 p.m. Nov. 4, and may be purchased by calling Fournier at 817-300-9796.

“Theatre is for everybody,” she said. “I would hate for one of our community to stay home for lack of $15. The money is secondary to our goals.”

Plans call for a staging next spring of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” – about a flower store that’s down on its luck until a plant with an unusual appetite shows up – and Fournier has ideas that include a murder mystery, kids’ shows, original works and a film fest.

The actress and director has performed hundreds of roles over the years, but one of her favorites was the “heartbreakingly beautiful” character of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

“Comedy is king, but I do love a good meaty drama,” she said. “I’m a performer at heart.”

A diversity of offerings is a strength, and The Changelings are committed to having something that appeals to all audiences.

Perhaps the fluidity is appropriate, since Fournier’s first acting role at age five was as “water.” She also lives in an area that knows the power of the Mississippi River all too well.

“We love to entertain and to make folks think,” she said. “Maybe you’ll see another side of the story after the show. Job done!”

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