The Thomasville Music & Drama Troupe traces its history back to 1972, when Fred Allen, a Georgia native who had recently relocated to Thomasville, envisioned a group that would allow him to share his talents and experiences with young people. With 20 charter members and his wife, Winnie, by his side, Mr. Allen formed a new group of singing entertainers he would call the Thomasville Music & Drama Troupe and began sharing skills gained from training at the prestigious Juilliard School, professional experience on the New York stage and a career as an artist and repertory producer with RCA Records.
Mr. Allen set out to create a vehicle through which he could share his talents and his experiences with local teenagers, give them the opportunity to learn first-hand about musical theatre and showcase their talents. The concept worked, and Troupe grew quickly in those early days; soon there were 44 members – aged seventh grade through twelfth – and then 80. On May 14, 1974, the Troupe presented its first Spring Show at the Thomasville Municipal Auditorium, and the community was blown away. “Mere teenagers,” they said, had become seasoned performers, thanks to the magic worked by Fred and Winnie Allen and a virtual army of volunteer parents and supporters. By Monday afternoon, there was a long waiting list hoping to join the following year.
Four decades later, the Thomasville Music & Drama Troupe remains a unique performing arts experience for the youth of this area. Today’s Troupe – currently 100 middle and high school students from Thomas, Brooks, Grady, Mitchell and Decatur counties in southwest Georgia – benefits from not only an exposure to music and theatre, but also from direction by classically trained artists who teach from first-hand experience gained on the New York stage and in the country’s premiere music and theatre schools. That training is complemented by optional theatre experience enrichment trips and workshop sessions with artists and educators who are part of today’s theatre and entertainment industry.
In 2006, the Allen’s notified the Troupe’s board of directors of their need to begin the process of transitioning the group to new artistic leadership. While Fred Allen remains actively involved as director emeritus, Winnie Allen retired from many vital volunteer responsibilities after nearly 35 years of service. Lisa Asher Davis, a classically trained singer and seasoned professional entertainer, assumed the role of Troupe’s director in 2009 and served in that position until 2012.
In July 2012, Raymond Hughes took the reins of the Thomasville Music & Drama Troupe after a thorough national artistic director search, beginning a new era as the Troupe began its 40th performance season. Hughes, a Thomasville native, has enjoyed a successful career in the upper echelons of professional music, including posts at premiere theatre and opera companies in the U.S., Germany, Italy, South Africa and Norway. His extensive music and conducting career included 16 years as chorus master with New York’s renowned Metropolitan Opera, working with the world’s finest singers, directors and musicians.
Not only are Troupe members gaining an appreciation of music, theatre and stage, but they are learning skills and gaining knowledge that will serve them well no matter what path their lives take. Further, these experiences are complemented by enhanced self-confidence, self-control, discipline and composure before an audience – wonderful gifts and life-skills whether or not they ever perform again.
Both of those components are vital to our mission, as Troupe was never “set aside” for those with perfect pitch, sight-reading skills or performance experience, although many of our student members bring those skills to the table. Some Troupe members are competent and even highly skilled musicians, singers, dancers and actors; others come to Troupe with little or no arts training or background, simply wanting to have fun, learn and experience the performing arts first-hand.