In the heart of the Great Depression, a group of students put on a play.
The year was 1937, and the setting was the Savannah Theatre at Armstrong Junior College. The group named themselves the Masquers, and from that inauspicious beginning has grown a 70-year legacy.
Beginning April 19, the Armstrong Atlantic State University Masquers will present the final production of their 70th anniversary season by presenting the play that started it all -- Three-Cornered Moon, written by Gertrude Tonkonogy.
AASU alumnus Steve Meguiar is directing the play. “They invited me back to direct, so I chose the very first play that they did at Armstrong,” he says.
The play was a smash hit when it was presented on Broadway in 1933. That same year, it was turned into a film starring Claudette Colbert.
“It’s considered a screwball comedy,” Meguiar says. “It’s got a little romance to it. It’s about a rich family who lose all their money in the stock market crash. The sons have to go to work and learn what the world is really all about.”
Will a 1933 comedy play to today’s audiences? Meguiar thinks so.
“I believe it has a lot to do with today’s audiences.” he says. “They are a family that is mixed up in the beginning, but they get it together by the end of the play.”
Meguiar may have an insider’s view on such matters. He is the pastor of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
“I’m a pastor now, but I was a medical technician for 15 years before I came into the ministry,. Ministers are required to have a college education, so I went back to school,” he says.
“While I was at Armstrong, I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I just needed a bachelor’s degree.”
Then Meguiar took a theater appreciation class taught by Roger Miller. It awakened memories of Little Theater days back home in Alamo, Ga.
“It was in my heart and blood,” Meguiar says. “I went home and told my wife I thought I would major in theater.”
During his time at AASU, Meguiar acted in several productions, including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. He directed three major productions -- A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley, The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds and Deathtrap.
“I had a cast of five in Gamma Rays, but had 21 in A Christmas Carol,” Meguiar says.
Earning a theater degree has helped Meguiar in his ministry. “It enhances my preaching style,” he says. “I’m a crazy guy, anyhow. I love people and I love life.”
While serving as the associate pastor at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church, Meguiar directed several dinner theater productions. He also worked with the church’s musical staff to present special dramas and musicals.
In Three-Cornered Moon, Meguiar is directing a cast of nine, mostly theater majors. Scheduling has caused some headaches.
“We had eight weeks for rehearsal, but one week was spring break,” Meguiar says. “About three to four of the students went to a theater conference, but I worked with the others when they weren’t around. Off and on, we had a good seven to eight weeks to rehearse.”
Easter, a traditionally busy time for church pastors, happened during rehearsals. “Finding the time for them and me was the hardest,” Meguiar says.
“I had to shuffle a few things,” he says. “I have an associate pastor who helps some. But he’s in seminary, so he’s gone several days a week.”
On top of all that, Meguiar has been trying to make time for family life with his wife, Cindy. “We rehearse at night,” he says. “My wife and I say hello at night, and that’s about it. I guess I’ll see her again after the play is over.”
Meguiar is immensely enjoying directing Three-Cornered Moon. “It’s interesting to go to college and see all those young people,” he says. “I’m going to turn the big 5-0 in May. I’m a grandfather three times over.”
He’s already dreading the final curtain. “I’m already having withdrawal just thinking about it,” he says.
Meguiar enjoys all aspects of theater, particularly directing. “I like acting, I like the technical end, doing the lights and sound,” he says. “Just let me bring the props out and I’d be happy.
‘One thing that is good about Armstrong is that you are able to do all of that,” Meguiar says. “You can design the set, write the play, produce it, the whole nine yards.”
Working with the Masquers has brought back memories of Meguiar’s Little Theater days. “We had a wonderful drama program,” he says. “I was the lighting designer and taught a movement class for children. Theater was deep in my blood for a long time.”
Meguiar is not the only alumnus who has been tapped for the 70th anniversary celebration. The production’s set designer, Cully Long, not only graduated from AASU, but worked there for two years as the resident scenic designer and technical director in 1999-2001.
Long and AASU Masquers alumna Michelle Robinson will share anecdotes from their experiences with the masquers prior to the opening night performance of Three-Cornered Moon. A retrospective lobby display with photos and other archival materials has been set up. Alumni also are being asked to contribute Masquers memorabilia for the permanent archive.
They also are being asked to sign a signature scroll. It and other items will be placed in a time capsule that will be placed in Jenkins Theater during renovations scheduled for this summer.
After the final performance, all theater alumni are invited to take one more tour of Jenkins Theater before it is renovated. But it’s not just alumni who are participating in the events.
Whitney Chappell represents the future of the AASU Masquers program. A freshman, she plans to be a theater major.
Chappell also has the lead role in Three-Cornered Moon, that of Elizabeth, the daughter of the family and the only one with any sense. “She’s sarcastic and headstrong,” Chappell says. “All the characters are going through transformations by the end of the show.
“The whole family is living in the house together. It’s set in the 1930s in Brooklyn, but it’s definitely something people can relate to today,” she says.
As a freshman, Chappell says she has worked hard to get noticed. “You try to audition for as many things as you can,” she says. “I was very lucky this time.”
Chappell discovered theater her freshman year in high school. “By the end of my senior year, I was doing every production and show,” she says. “I was elected president of the theater department at my high school.”
During a thespian’s conference, Chappell joined other potential theater majors to audition in front of 20 to 30 college representatives. “Then you wait to see how many callbacks you get,” she says.
One of Chappell’s callbacks came from AASU, and she made the decision to leave California to attend school in Savannah. “Armstrong has a very good reputation for theater,” she says.
“I still have a lot of time to make a decision, but I definitely will be pursuing a performance career,” Chappell says. “We definitely want to do a great show like those students did 70 years ago.”
The Armstrong Atlantic State University Masquers present Three-Cornered Moon in seven performances, April 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and April 22 at 3 p.m. in AASU Jenkins Theater. General admission tickets $8. Tickets for seniors, military personnel and non-AASU students $7. Remaining tickets will be available at the Jenkins Theater Box Office one hour before the curtain. Call 927-5381 weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
It is free and open to the public.
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