Small town community theater is too often brushed under the rug and ignored. For some, the reasons are justified as the talent lives up to its namesake in all the wrong ways. For others, it’s just a mindless push back against anything that isn’t the crème de la crème.
Community theater is made up of folk who do what they do for the passion of the craft and little else. Mary Jeanne Reynales is one such individual. Reynales is a bona fide leader in Corvallis’ community theater. With over 20 years of directorial experience and a number of years of experience as a CCT board member, Reynales continues to elevate the local theater scene to this day.
With a day job as a clinical coordinator for Home Health Services at Samaritan and what she only calls a hobby in directing, Reynales is an impressive multitasker. That ability bleeds into her social time as well. Whenever we sit to talk, Reynales is usually musing through something on her phone, listening to music (sometimes from a production she’s working on), all while working on her next big production inside her head.
As with many performers and theater nuts, Reynales found her way to the stage through family.
“I started in community theater at the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera,” Reynales said. “I auditioned for parts because my girls were interested in being in them, so we all did them together. I was in musicals in high school and I came from a musical family.”
Reynales started her career as a performer on the stage, but it wasn’t until she hit Corvallis that she considered slipping behind the curtain to direct.
“When I moved to Corvallis, I had experience as an actress and a couple people suggested I direct. I said, ‘I’m no director,’ but the bug had been planted,” Reynales recalled. “I went to the OSU library and checked out 30 books on directing, staging, and lighting. I gave myself a course on all the jargon, made a proposal to Corvallis Community Theater, and directed the show Annie in 1995.”
And just like that, Reynales had unknowingly started 20 years of Corvallis-based theatrical goodness. From Oliver to Fiddler on the Roof and Anne of Green Gables, Reynales has quite the portfolio to her name.
“My idea is, it’s nice to have a hobby,” Reynales said. “And this is my hobby. I like to sew, I make costumes for other shows. I’ve done stage management. I’ve been on the stage a few times. It’s really fun. But now that I’ve done directing, it’s hard to go back.”
From Los Angeles to Corvallis, Reynales maintained a fairly busy lifestyle. As a mother and a higher-up at Good Samaritan, she could easily be excused for leaving the theater world behind. She finds a way to make it work, though.
“On a usual day, I come here to Samaritan at 8 a.m., leave at 4:30 p.m. My husband will pick me up and we’ll grab [lunch] downtown and then head into the theater, and then I open my book and get ready,” said Reynales. “That book that I carry has all the data in it for the show. Every scene, every line, every piece of music. It’s something that I have up to six months before the show starts… Some weeks you’re working every day. It gets overwhelming.”
But since life doesn’t allow anyone too much happiness, tragedy struck the family and Reynales found herself without inspiration, without any desire to continue work in any major way.
“I took a pretty big break of about four or five years because my mom and dad were getting old,” Reynales said. “My mom had Alzheimer’s and we were taking care of her… She died and right after she died, my father died six months later. I was so depressed that I never left the couch for about nine or ten months after that.”
But in the fall of 2013, the hills came alive and so, too, did Reynales.
“All of a sudden I got a little bug to do a show and I did The Sound of Music,” said Reynales. “All that work makes you have energy and it’s fun. All these people are depending on you to be there and do it. They look to you for leadership.”
Reynales hasn’t taken a break since, coming off a highly successful run of Les Miserables, and she isn’t looking at stopping any time soon. With productions like Legally Blonde and Miss Saigon on her wish list, Reynales’ desire for big and bombastic seems to be continuing.
Reynales will continue to balance the hectic nature of hospital work with her hobby for years to come. Her dedication to the stage and to maintaining quality in the local theater community will undoubtedly leave a mark on the city’s art scene.
By Nathan Hermanson