THE SLIGHTLY OFF CENTER PLAYERS

: Act. Dance. Sing.

THE SLIGHTLY OFF CENTER PLAYERS is a nationally-awarded, internationally-traveled 501(c)(3) nonprofit performing arts studio offering dance, acting and musical theatre instruction, plus private vocal and instrument classes. The 4,500 sq. ft. facility has two 25' x 60' dance bays and features a black box theatre. It also two lobbies which double as classroom areas, a green room, two dressing rooms, a private vocal room and a café / boutique.

What’s with the Funky Name?

Conceived by Technical Director Chris Thrailkill, SOCP’s tongue-in-cheek title is a double entendre — an homage to both the irreverently talented group’s slightly off creative and fun-loving spirit as well as their physical location slightly off 4201 Center Street in Deer Park, at the intersection of Arbor, behind Hellyer Transmission.

2001: In the Beginning

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In the winter of 2001, Mandy Seymore and Jeff Sensat (who met in the fall of 2000) mused over the notion of producing plays in Deer Park, Texas. Mandy’s for-profit fledgling business, Center Stage Performing Arts Studio and Theatre, had opened just two years earlier in 1999 with the support and assistance of Janie Seymore, attracting an increasing base of loyal dance, drama and vocal students. Its popularity paved the way to a move from its original 2,500 sq. ft. location at 2510 Center Street just south of San Augustine into a new 4,500 sq. ft. facility at Center and Arbor streets which opened December 2001. Having been involved in Greater Houston dramatics and dance for 40+ combined years, Center Stage Artistic Director Seymore and Center Stage Co-Artistic Director Sensat discussed the possibility of producing their own brand of adult dinner theatre utilizing Sensat’s background in advertising, newspaper reporting, graphic design, sound design, acting and theatrical direction, plus Seymore’s dance and choreography expertise, onstage / onscreen training and dedication to youth arts education.

The plan: to realize a new theatrical venue devoted to community-level excellence.
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2002: Let There Be Art

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Designating one of its original three 25' x 60' bays as a combo dance room in the evenings and black box theatre / rehearsal space by night, Center Stage’s first theatrical offering was the irreverently bawdy musical comedy Nunsense (2002), a revival borrowed from neighboring Pasadena Little Theatre’s 2001 season, directed by PLT President Frankie Flores, in which Seymore performed and for which she choreographed. (PLT is the oldest continually-operating theatre in Texas.) Three seasons and a flurry of critically-acclaimed shows later under the direction of Sensat and Seymore (All in the Timing, Stepping Out, Curious Savage, Marvin’s Room, Fame, Babes in Toyland, Alice in Wonderland and others), with help from guest directors Donna Taylor (Steel Magnolias, Noises Off), Tommy Bo (Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten) and a dedicated growing core troupe, Center Stage’s capable yet-named volunteer thespians and technicians adopted the moniker “The Slightly Off Center Players,” naming Sensat SOCP Artistic Director. “We initially created this theatre for the reward of producing challenging, meaningful art and — of course — the fun of putting on shows which we very much enjoy,” said Sensat. “But we also birthed SOCP to preserve and instill professionalism and excellence in artists who hold a common belief: community theatre must be lifted from average to excellent, from common to sublime, as it serves not only to entertain but also to educate, enlighten and inspire.”

“Community theatre must be lifted from average to excellent, from common to sublime, as it serves not only to entertain but also to educate, enlighten and inspire.” — SOCP Artistic Director Jeff Sensat

2004: Nonprofit Aspirations

In the fall of 2004, core SOCP volunteers began discussing the possibility of a move toward nonprofit incorporation as a means to ensure longevity via a nonprofit business model, and to dedicate itself to an ongoing community-minded legacy. To that end, SOCP articles of incorporation were drafted, bylaws were created, and a 501(c)(3) tax exempt application was officially filed. SOCP officers were nominated and elected: Founding President and Chairman of the Board Jerry Winn, Founding First VP and Business Manager Terri Page, Second VP and Membership Chair Mandy Seymore, Artistic Director Jeff Sensat, Treasurer Janie Seymore, and Founding Secretary / Fund-Raising Chairman Kathy Novack. Winn, who’d also served as PLT’s president prior to joining SOCP, stated that Center Stage had quickly gained a reputation in the Bay Area (and, hence, the ongoing and humbling challenge) of being the place “where theatre people go to see good theatre.”
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In the fall of 2004, core SOCP volunteers began discussing the possibility of a move toward nonprofit incorporation as a means to ensure longevity via a nonprofit business model, and to dedicate itself to an ongoing community-minded legacy. To that end, SOCP articles of incorporation were drafted, bylaws were created, and a 501(c)(3) tax exempt application was officially filed. SOCP officers were nominated and elected: Founding President and Chairman of the Board Jerry Winn, Founding First VP and Business Manager Terri Page, Second VP and Membership Chair Mandy Seymore, Artistic Director Jeff Sensat, Treasurer Janie Seymore, and Founding Secretary / Fund-Raising Chairman Kathy Novack. Winn, who’d also served as PLT’s president prior to joining SOCP, stated that Center Stage had quickly gained a reputation in the Bay Area (and, hence, the ongoing and humbling challenge) of being the place “where theatre people go to see good theatre.”

2005: National Acclaim & International Travel

As SOCP members anxiously awaited word regarding nonprofit status, the troupe began reaching out to other local area venues in an effort to build solidarity and an artistic network. During that discovery process, SOCPers found, joined and became active in Texas Nonprofit Theatres (TNT), a state-wide organization dedicated to cultivating grassroots peforming arts troupes by offering conferences, counseling, resources and community ties.
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JAN – MAY, 2005: (Jan.) Texas Nonprofit Theatres — in cooperation with The American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) — was nearing application deadline for the bienniel AACTFest, a nationwide theatre festival / tiered competition which culminates in a national fete at which the top ten community theatres in the U.S. perform. At Seymore’s urgency, Sensat and SOCP entered three of the original six short comedies they’d performed in their 2002 season production of David Ives’ All in the Timing including Sure Thing, The Universal Language, and Philip Glass Buys and Loaf of Bread. Timing advanced through the three initial levels (Texas Quad IV in Jan., Texas State in March; and Region VI in May) garnering a plethora of accolades and awards from adjudicators at each level for Sensat’s direction, solo performances (from cast mates Seymore, Sensat, Brandon Dolgner and Reyana Wright), ensemble acting (for the entire cast), choreography by Mandy and Reyana, and set design by Chris Thrailkill. Tantamount to Timing’s success was assistance from Terri Page (Stage Mgr.), Rhonda Cole (crew), Amanda McDonald (lights), Ryan Page (sound), and dancers Tyler Davis and Crystal Rodriguez.

JUNE – OCT, 2005: After five months of competition, and out of 250 companies nationwide, SOCP’s newly-formed troupe found itself swept away to the national fest in Kalamazoo, MI, representing Texas as the first theatre ever from Quad IV to do so. (SOCP was also the first theatre ever from Quad IV to advance out of state to the regional-level fest.) Sensat was named as one of the top six actors in the nation for multiple roles in Timing, and SOCP was given the Technical Director’s Award by The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre for outstanding professionalism. Timing was also voted as the top show that year by ’Zoo staff and was ranked second in the nation by a panel of peers participating in a master adjudication training class held during the fest. Subsequently, SOCP was also honored by invitation to perform Timing overseas in Heidelberg, Germany, by Jim Sohre (U.S. Army Entertainment Director, Installation Management Command, Europe Region) at the Roadside Theatre during the European Festival of One Acts and by Kathie Maldonado for the Southwest Theatre and Film Association’s (SWTFA) annual conference.

2005: Stoking the Home Fires & Nonprofit Approval

It was an exhilarating, exhausting year. SOCP committed to a globe-trotting competition schedule in 2005: from Harbour Playhouse in Dickinson, TX (Quad Level) to the Scott Theatre in Fort Worth, TX (State Level), to the Lawton Community Theatre in Lawton, OK (Regionals) to The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre in Kalamazoo, MI (Nationals). Then, it was off to Heidelberg, Germany in September and back for a final performance in Lubbock, TX at SWFTA in October. AACTFest 2005 was a year-long commitment including pre-fest rehearsal and prep. The cycle tested SOCP’s limits and is a time they’ll always cherish.

While the Timing troupe traveled, the home fires never stopped burning. SOCP was also maintaining a theatre season at home, kept burning with the gracious help of Guest Director Karen Winn who helmed the delicious southern-fried comedy Dearly Departed. And, just after SOCP’s national AACTFest trip, word was received that the troupe had been granted nonprofit status.

2007: Expansion and Philanthropy

In 1999, Center Stage Performing Arts Studio and Theatre was established in a 2,500 sq. ft. space. In 2001, the business moved and upgraded to 4,500 sq. ft..

As the studio grew, “it was time to make a tough decision,” remarked Mandy mid-2007. “So Jeff, Janie and I decided to give Center Stage’s student base over to SOCP.” Previously, dance and drama classes were under the for-profit, Center Stage. All for-profit Center Stage class offerings were philanthropically placed in one fell swoop under the nonprofit, SOCP, making SOCP the benefactor of Center Stage’s entire student base, which had taken eight years to build. “This is our way of ensuring that SOCP will survive all of us. This is our legacy: the enlightenment we receive through the tools afforded by performance art, the compassion we develop for others, the philanthropy and kindness we offer because of it, and the inspiration we both give and receive through the process of artistic excellence,” said Jeff. “SOCP is now a community project. As long as there are families, friends and artists who believe in the power of art, SOCP will be here. Now, its perpetuation is in all our hands.”