From classics to comedies, mysteries to musicals and children’s performances to those a little more on the adult side, the Ralston Community Theatre has been an entertainment entity for four decades.
RCT celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer, and it has been a fabric of the Ralston community by producing more than 50 productions for audiences of all ages during that span.
From its first production of “Lil’ Abner” in 1979 to its 40th anniversary celebration performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” the RCT has found its niche in the Omaha metro area.
“Per capita, Omaha has more community theaters than almost any other area in the country,” said Todd Uhrmacher, a board member and director for many of those 50-plus performances. “Omaha likes its theater and that’s a proud thing for us to say.”
Uhrmacher, the performing arts teacher at Ralston High School, arrived 27 years ago. While leading the drama department at RHS, he quickly immersed himself into the RCT arena as well. His belief that a community needs its performing arts has been his motivation behind his involvement at both RHS and the RCT.
“I think the world focuses a lot on athletics, but that can’t be our only outlet for expressions,” he said. “You have to be well-rounded.”
Jon Flower, a 2006 RHS graduate, returned to the Ralston area several years ago and became an RCT board member. He has seen the community embrace the theater as both an actor and a board member.
“You can feel that connection with the community and it’s an outlet for people to get out and do something in the summer,” Flower said. “Families look at it as a way to engage themselves with their kids and their neighbors.”
The RCT puts together a single performance each summer, although in recent years it has also added a children’s play in the spring. With only one production at their disposal, Uhrmacher said it’s critical the cast excels when the lights come on.
“We only get one shot at this, so it’s all or nothing for us,” he said.
There are many factors that are considered when the RCT selects its shows. Uhrmacher said the most critical is finding a show that will draw in the talent.
“With so many theaters in the area, you’re in competition to make sure you can cast the play,” he said. “So much depends on the title for the kind of interest you’ll get. We had a huge turnout for auditions this year, but there have been other years where you have to make phone calls to fill the cast.
“We try and have our titles picked well in advance because with so many theaters, there’s going to be great demand.”
He added that diversity is always a great theme when it comes to selecting performances.
“You don’t want to repeat what someone else is doing,” he said. “In my time as a director, we’ve tried to be on the cutting edge as far as picking more recent plays. You try not to get to stuck to the tried and true performances because I think the public likes something new. But there is a place for the classics.”
Uhrmacher said it’s not uncommon for half of the cast to be comprised of Ralston performers each year. But the theater’s desire to remain relevant with others in the area has led them to draw performers from across the metro. He said productions average around 30 to 40 performers each year.
“In the early days, it was more prevalent that they wanted to keep to just Ralston actors,” he said. “But to try and maintain, they’ve had to branch out. We draw actors from all over.”
It becomes a labor of love for those actors, who aren’t compensated for their work.
“We rehearse three hours a day, five days a week for a month-and-a-half and they don’t get paid,” he said. “They’re serious about wanting to be here.”
In his long career as a director, Uhrmacher has seen his share of change in the industry.
“Amazon has re-invented the world,” he said. “In 1992, I had to figure out a way to make things for our shows. Now, I can just order them.”
The Ralston Performing Arts Centre at Ralston High School has provided a home for RCT’s performances over the years, moving into its newest home in 2005 when a new auditorium was built.
“We have access to a state of the art space,” Flower said. “I think that’s been a big key for our success.”
Like any other community-driven program, the RCT is only as successful as the people behind its operation.
“We’ve cycled through board members since I’ve been here, but many of them were here before I even started,” Flower said. “These are people who are strong community advocates.
“I know personally it’s been tremendously important in my life. Growing up, I spent a lot of time hanging out at the theater. It’s been a home away from home for me.”
To learn more about RCT’s 2019 performance of “Beauty and the Beast” and to read a profile on director Todd Uhrmacher, visit page 3.