Salado, Texas, Homes Become Theaters

Hometown Heroes, People
on August 7, 2005

Dozens of audience members quietly settle into their seats as the theatrical production of Profiles: Famous (and Infamous) People, gets underway in Salado, Texas (pop. 3,475). If the actors seem familiar to the eager crowd, it’s because the performers are their neighbors. If the cozy surroundings seem inviting, it’s because the show is taking place in their neighbor’s living room.

Watching the production unfold is Raymond Carver, the mastermind behind the in-home theater company known as the Living Room Theatre of Salado (LRTS). The idea came to Carver, a former drama professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, in 1996 when he retired to Salado with his wife, Barbara. Although the town was without a theater venue, Carver was determined to put on a show.

He envisioned something that would bring neighbors together as actors and writers, and productions without the bother of costumes, sets and lighting. In doing so, he enlisted the help of the late A. C. Greene, a renowned author, and his wife, Judy. Carver adapted two of Greene’s short stories for himself and Judy, who then persuaded friends to host productions in their living rooms.

What started out as a one-shot event instead launched the first season of the LRTS, which begins its 10th season this fall. Three shows are produced each season, and each production is performed three or four times for a total audience of 125. Tickets are $5, which covers the cost of mailing performance announcements and other production costs. Each performance—no longer than 90 minutes—is staged in a different Salado home and includes light refreshments after the show.

Carver is the theater’s energetic producer/director, adapting novel excerpts, memoirs and other material and recruiting neighbors to read from scripts much like old-time radio actors. His recent production of Profiles: Famous (and Infamous) People took place in the living room of Paul and Mary Jean Boston. After helping with last-minute buffet preparations, Mary Jean took the stage, where she exhibited her wry humor by reading the part of former Texas Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson.

The vignettes were adapted from published biographies written by resident Elizabeth Silverthorne, who watched as Salado High School Spanish teacher Barbara Harper took on her first role, portraying Pancho Villa’s widow.

“He encouraged me,” Harper says of Carver, who coached her for the role. “He has so much to offer. I’ve seen other people in these shows and marveled at the way he brings out talent in people who have never acted.”

Mingling during the social hour after the performance, Harper is surrounded by admirers. One wonders aloud what Carver’s secret is for coaxing performances out of amateurs.

“Raymond has fantastic intuition when it comes to casting,” says Charles Barrier, who portrayed Ashbel Smith, founder of the University of Texas, during the show. Barrier says the key to the Living Room Theatre’s success encompasses many things. “It’s the selection of plays, brilliant casting, the social hour and the feeling of community when people are packed in together.”

Carver, who has cast more than 120 people in the shows, explains that he typecasts and works only with people who are willing to perform. “Everyone has behaviors or characteristics that can work in a particular context,” he says.

A few weeks prior to each show, he coaches actors individually on interpretation and timing, then holds a full rehearsal.

Of course, there’s another success factor to the shows. Judy Greene, who played a small part in the show, says: “It’s Raymond’s kindness. He makes you think you’re a star.”

Harper agrees. “Raymond has done an incredible job. Actors and audience members are grateful to him for opening new avenues, developing talent and making us part of a community.”

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