Bringing H.A.R.T to Huntington

Huntington Area Regional Theater, H.A.R.T, was started by three individuals who were previously a part of a group called Huntington Outdoor Theater or HOT. After twenty years HOT split up, but Thomas and Mary Smirl and Clint McElroy wanted to keep the tradition alive.

“Last year was our first year as the group previously (HOT – Huntington Outdoor Theater) just quit after 20 years,” Thomas Smirl said, “Mary, Clint and I had all been involved in many HOT productions and we felt that we could create the same summer event, only better.”

H.A.R.T is a volunteer brank of Greater Huntington Parks and Rec Department. Thomas Smirl, Mary Smirl, and McElroy are more focused on creating a quality show for the families of Huntington and less focused on making a profit.

“Our goal is to create quality, family entertainment in the form of live outdoor theater and at least break even with the budget provided by the Park Board, Thomas Smirl said. ”

This summer H.A.R.T is putting on two shows. Mary Poppins, which is showing this weekend June 26, 27 and 28 at the Ritter Park Amphitheater. Thomas and Mary Swirl directed Mary Poppins. Tickets are available for purchase online at GHPRD.org or at the Park District Office.

The second show being put on by H.A.R.T is called “Collis P!” The show is written and directed by Clint McElroy with musical talents from Danny Craig, a local musician out of Ashland, Kentucky.

The performance is the story of Collis P. Huntington, the founder of Huntington. “Collis P!” will run for three weekends in July starting Friday July 10 and will run through Sunday July 26.

The process leading up to these performances is a lengthy one starting with the selection of shows in December of 2014. Once the shows are selected then the casting process beginnings. The final cast is selected by January 2015 and rehearsals start in February.

“We have to line up set creation, costuming, advertising, trying to find sponsors and advertisers, volunteers to usher and run lights and move sets, programs, facility maintenance, contracts for various things including this year a professional actor, Thomas Smirl said.”

Opening night for Mary Poppins brought out over 700 people. The musical numbers and stunts had the audience captivated from beginning to end. The crowd gave the performers a standing ovation.

The actors for the show are from around the nation. H.A.R.T worked with Actors Equity Guild. Thomas Smirl told his actors to think of the process leading up to the show as summer camp.

“We tell people coming in, this is like going to summer camp, but you get to perform at the end. And we have all been in summer camp together, and just like when camp is over, you are sad to leave all of your new friends. But this one summer and this one moment in time, the universe came together just right and brought this fantastic cast to the people of Huntington,” Thomas Smirl said.

H.A.R.T is a growing organization that T. Smirl hopes will last long past their reign. Every year the organization grows in means of production, volunteers, and audience members.

“It is a thankless tireless job for which we receive no pay, only the joy of the art we create.  That is what drives us to push through all of the other stuff, the sight of forty some actors all moving and singing on stage as one and the people of this area being amazed that these are people from right here amongst us, Thomas Smirl said.”

Shalee Rogney can be contacted at [email protected]