Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, October 20, 2003.
I'd like to tell you about a lady that only a few of you have ever met and yet paradoxically has influenced the course of theater in this town perhaps more than anyone present.
With the usual experience of high school and collegiate theater and a show with the then reigning "Y Players", Jean was working on Red Cross Radio during WWII when she met Max Glanbard, a Technical Sergeant in the Army Air Corps who was forming a new group to do it's first play in the winter of 1945. One thing led to another and Jean was suddenly doing that first play's make-up for this group that took on the name of the "Dayton Theatre Guild". Parenthetically, let me tell you that she met Tom Rice on this first show and their lives became lovingly intertwined for the next 54 years.
She went on to become known for her design skills with make-up, sets and especially costumes. "Design" is a misnomer in community theater; we all know that you gotta do the work of building or constructing as well. She became well known as an actress and a director, in particular.
While working constantly at the Guild she found time to teach at schools as varied as Sinclair, Wright State, several high schools and that noble experiment in hands-on arts for young people, The Living Arts Center, often directing as well. She directed children's theater for the Junior League for over 20 years, once seeing that every school in the Miami Valley received a production within a two year period. There are numerous people throughout this Valley and indeed throughout the United States whose first interest in theater was kindled and then fostered by a teacher named Jean.
She became the first woman to be elected President of OCTA -- an organization she devoted much time to-working frequently to assist other theaters in developing organizational and backstage skills.
Jean and I chat most every Friday morning: The hits, the misses, the also-rans of current and past theater and, of course, the back stage gossip that somehow seems inappropriate tonight although some of it's pretty juicy. Oh well.
What I've come to realize is that Jean's greatest contribution is not in that dry list that I first recited although all of it is very much true and much to be admired.
What she brought to the Dayton Theatre Guild was a growing belief that non-professional need not mean amateur, that community theater actors when properly led and directed are capable of far more than John Loves Mary, that intelligent audiences wanted not just the style but the substance as well, that there was a place and a need for more than straw hat scripts, that you could actually develop a home for serious work by skilled non-professionals who were willing to make the commitment that supporting job and family while rehearsing and performing makes. In short, demanding the highest standards, first from herself and then all others became a way of life in her vision of the theater. But always with a sense of fun. No one who ever worked with Jean came away with a long face.
I remember her telling the story of an actress who complained that she was being man-handled (today we'd say groped) by an actor during the black out before a scene. Jean pointed out that since it was a period play she was wearing a large hat with a very long hat pin.
That night only Jean understood the significance of a blackout during which the only sound heard was "Unnh....".
While kindly in manner and demeanor, Jean became a stickler for accuracy, precision and high standards of performance while insisting that the financial affairs of the Guild be managed with a responsible frugality. Well to be honest she doesn't suffer incompetence very well, but who should?
This desire for excellence reached its fruition in the Carriage house theater to which the Guild moved in its fifth season, 1950. In a complete break with the custom of the time, the Guild performed in a 30X17 space with 30 seats singly placed on three of the walls. This tiny theater in the round demanded a high level of concentration and a subtle acting style.
That this intimate style and the quality of its presentation remains at the Guild today is a tribute to the force of Jean's convictions. That the organization has survived financially is an equal testament to her early influence.
Ladies and gentleman, I commend to you my first lady of the Dayton Theater: Jean Barger Rice.