Closing the curtain: Theatricks director to retire after 3 decades of service to community
Webster Crocker came to Sherman for an education at his parent's alma mater Austin College, but got way more than he bargained for including a wife, a family and a job that he probably wouldn't have stayed with as long anywhere else.
Best known for his role with the community children's theater program Theatricks and Project Theater which acts as an educational resource to local schools, Crocker came to Texoma as a student but quickly became a leader and advocate for local arts, entertainment and cultural communities.
This summer, Theatricks Director Webster Crocker will retire after serving with the children's theater company in Sherman for more than three decades.
"(Thirty-two ) years is a long time for anyone to be at a community theatre," he said. "Ron Cassady, the previous managing director did 37 years, and I had hoped that I could have matched or beat his tenure."
"I am really going to miss the people that have touched my life here with Theatricks, both young and old!," he added.
Project Theater, supporting cast, STAGES and more were all places where Crocker's involvement in the Sherman Community's Players could be seen.
"During Crocker’s time as the Theatricks director, he was instrumental in expanding the children’s theatre program to include Project Theatre (SCP’s educational outreach program established in 1989), the Supporting Cast (SCP’s teen theatre troupe of 6th through 12th graders established in 1993), and STAGES (SCP’s summer youth playwriting conference established in 2013)," said the press release announcing his retirement. "SCP’s Project Theatre program has touched the lives of over half a million individuals over the years. Since 1993, Crocker has also served as the technical director for SCP’s Mainstage program, designing and constructing almost 200 Mainstage productions, as well as directing and producing over one hundred Theatricks productions."
Crocker, who thought he was destined for professional theater, said the obstacles to that career path seem now like a blessing.
"After graduating Austin College in 1987, I thought that I was ready to head into professional theatre, so I applied for an assistant scenic painter job at the Dallas Theatre Center with an AC alum but was told that I didn’t have the right kind of theatre knowledge (practical instead of book knowledge)," he said.
So he went back to school.
"I didn’t have anything else lined up, so I took the offer to go to graduate school at Oklahoma State University and work toward more of a teaching degree," Crocker said. "After graduation in 1989, I sought educational theatre jobs, as well as professional theatre jobs and was hired by Dallas Theatre Center as the assistant scenic painter that I applied for two years earlier."
While waiting to hear back, Crocker decided it was the right time to marry his AC sweetheart. The moved into an apartment in Sherman while she finished her master's degree at AC.
"When DTC found out that I would be commuting to Dallas every day, they rescinded the job offer, and I was left once again with nothing," Crocker said. "I heard about the part-time Theatricks job with SCP and was hired, but I still needed a full-time job to pay the bills."
So, Crocker worked for Kelly Services at Gates Rubber Company from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and Theatricks from 3:30-9 p.m. each evening.
"Once again, I really believe that at this juncture in my life, no matter how hard the first years were, I was being led and blessed with this job and living in Sherman, Texas," he said. "I never would have wanted to raise my five kids in Dallas, and with Theatricks I was able to include my kids in many of the activities and the many friends and families they have met and gotten to know."
But that doesn't mean getting started with his accidental community theater career was easy.
"Project Theatre, the educational outreach program that I created with SCP Development Director Leanne Arbuckle my first year with SCP in 1989 was and is a strong representation of who I am as a theatre educator," Crocker said. "It wasn’t easy getting the program started that first year, getting into the area schools took a lot of convincing and demonstrating to them exactly what Theatricks and Project Theatre had to offer them and their theatre arts teaching."
But through the years, he got to know and work with so many different people on so many different projects. One of the things he didn't ever really think they were going to be able to do was to produce a show that really lifted people off the ground.
"I have always tried to bring something new and exciting to our community about theatre, though small as we are. I wanted to do "Peter Tan, the musical," but I only wanted to do it if we could do the flying effects too. On Theatricks annual budget this would never have been possible, but luckily I was able to convince some area businesses and foundations that everything is possible. Through their additional funding, Theatricks performed all of the flying effects for 'Peter Pan' with the professional flying troupe, Fly by Foy the fall of 2000 in the newly constructed Honey McGee Playhouse."
That was really just the beginning.
"Since then, Theatricks has done flying shows five more times: three times in the Kidd-Key Auditorium ('Peter Pan,' 'Wizard of Oz' and 'Willy Wonka') and twice more in the Honey McGee Playhouse ('Tarzan' and 'Mary Poppins'). 'Mary Poppins' even included Bert, the chimney sweep, dancing upside down on the proscenium and Mary Poppins flying over the audience," he said
Within those productions and many others, Crocker has worked with around 2,000 actors.
When asked which ones stood out, Crocker joked that the question could get him into trouble because he is liable to accidentally leave someone out.
"There are a few who I think bridged the gap of being a student of mine and transitioning into their own person. Jason James is one of those students who was very excited by the process and excelled naturally in it. He was Jesse in my 1996 production of 'Bridge to Terabithia,' a very emotional show that required a special bond amongst the other actors to pull off. Jason was the glue that made it work."
Crocker still cries thinking about that show and its impact on him.
"Austin Tooley is another one who took his natural talents and developed into a great director," he said. "Austin was very young in his first endeavors with Theatricks as an orphan in Theatricks 1996 production of 'Oliver!' He was given the opportunity to direct Theatricks 2005 production of 'Treasure Island' where he even wrote the script."
Then, there is his own family.
"My son, Caleb, is another one who has sought to perfect his talents in a variety of ways becoming very versatile as an actor, singer, director, and movie maker. He and I may even work together to develop a new children’s theatre program in the future, thus passing on the mantle from father to son."
Crocker said those students and so many others taught him a lot over the years.
"Humility and patience!," he said just to name a couple of things. " I consider myself a Christian, and I have tried very hard to provide a program where kids and families can feel safe and comfortable to share ideas and talents. I never claim that I am the best at anything, and that Theatricks is only a wonderful program because of the many talented individuals who give of themselves so selfishly to Theatricks’ success. I am just always thankful that I can take a part in the process.
"If I can add, over the last 32 years I have learned that family is very important, by my own family taking a big part in Theatricks and many others as well. Compassion needs to be a big part of any community director’s mindset in order to truly grow as an individual and as a part of any community."
Even though he has loved being part of this community and its community of thespians, he feels now is the time for something new.
"SCP has changed since I first became part of the SCP family 32 years ago, and I don’t know if it is because of COVID or just the various transitions made recently, but I am told that they want to head in a different direction and I don’t want to stand in their way," he said.
While the separation from Theatricks will be a transition, Crocker's presence may not be lost on the community as he looks into opportunities to teach at either a local school district or a college setting.
"I might even look toward starting a program with my son or in collaboration with another non-profit organization," he said. "I have a belief that something wonderful will present itself as our society moves toward opening back up and returning to normal. I pray that it will be somewhere that I am already familiar, but where is the adventure in that.
"I will always hold my time and those I worked with in a special place in my heart and do so thank this community for welcoming me and my family into their family!"