Summer Mummers is a yearly production presented at the historic Yucca Theater in downtown Midland, Texas. Running for three months out of every year (mid-June, July, and August), Summer Mummers celebrated its 60th year in 2008. There are typically 30 performances each summer. The nightly show consists of a locally written melodrama, followed by the Olio. The profits from Summer Mummers directly benefit Midland Community Theatre, even though Summer Mummers is a separate entity from Midland Community Theatre. It is estimated that 25% of Midland Community Theatre's budget is provided by the success of Summer Mummers.
The early years
In 1949, supporters of Midland Community Theatre were looking for a way to bring extra money into the newly formed organization. One supporter brought up the fact that melodramas were still popular in California, and it was soon decided to present a production of "The Drunkard." Another supporter remembered that street performers in the 1800s were called "mummers." After deciding that the production would be presented in the summer, the name "Summer Mummers" was born. The four individuals usually considered the 'founders' were Art Cole (then the Director at Midland Community Theatre); William F. Pennebaker, a Midland attorney; Bill Pomeroy, a Midland oilman, and Norris Creath who played the first Mummers 'Villain'. Cole directed and starred in the first production (and many later ones also) and Pennebaker and Pomeroy ran the front-of-house operations. In the early years of Summer Mummers, productions were presented in various locations, including VFW halls and Theatre Center, the former home of Midland Community Theatre.
The Yucca Theater
In 1927, oilman and former Montana senator T.S. Hogan announced plans to build a theater to complement the nearby Petroleum Building. Built in 1929, the Yucca Theatre started as a movie and vaudeville house. The interior, designed by H.B. Layman, features gilded Assyrian bulls, stenciled lotus flower lamps, and a two-tier balcony. The Egyptian style is a sign of the late 1920s, which was prominent at the time thanks in part to the discovery of King Tut's tomb a few years earlier.
In 1981, volunteers undertook the effort of fully restoring the Yucca to its original condition. Professional crews were brought in to make a few additions. These include a tiered floor for cabaret seating, as well as a few technology updates. After the restoration was completed, the Yucca became the new home of Summer Mummers. Summer Mummers still performs exclusively at the Yucca to this day.
The first half of the show features the melodrama. A new locally written melodrama script is written every year, with some scripts being repeated every now and then. Each script also features a general "theme" for the story (e.g. baseball, beach party, medieval times). The storyline usually follows the same linear structure, with a female heroine and her sidekick finding themselves in distress. The villain and his sidekick look to take advantage of the heroine's plight, with the ulterior motives of financial gain and the love of the heroine. The hero and hero's sidekick confront the villains, a struggle ensues, with the hero coming out victorious. The villains are vanquished, the hero and heroine fall in love, and the hero's sidekick gains the (sometimes unwanted) admiration of the heroine's sidekick.
The title of each script is alliterative in nature. Each script title also features a subtitle. Examples include:
- "Debauchery on the Drawbridge (or More Than Just Another Sworded Affair)"
- "Mayhem at the Moviola (or There's A Nasty Film All Over My Body)"
- "Dastardly Doings on the Diamond (or The Latter Batter's Chatter Rarely Flatters)"
The name of each individual character changes every year, however the same basic character-types are featured in every script. These include:
- The Hero - the protagonist of the story. Throughout the story, the hero is shown to be a moral, upstanding character who stays away from alcohol and sex. He is short in stature, with blond hair, and no facial hair. Although he often takes the leadership role, he is often shown to be less intelligent than he believes. A point is always made to remind the audience that the hero graduated from Texas A&M University.
- The Hero's Sidekick - the hero's trusty companion. Although he stands for what's right, the Hero's Sidekick's interests are largely sexual. Although he is usually presented as the dumbest person in the story, it can be argued that he is one of the smarter characters. The Hero's Sidekick is significantly taller than the Hero. He has ratty red hair, is missing a tooth, and is usually seen wearing red long-johns as part of his attire.
- The Heroine - the female protagonist of the story. The Heroine (like the Hero) is portrayed as being a naive person. She stands for what's right, although some scripts hint at the idea that the Heroine is sexually frustrated. She is short in stature, with blond hair, in order to complement her true love, the Hero.
- The Heroine's Sidekick - is the Heroine's best friend. She looks out for the best interests of her naive friend, while frequently acting in a sexual manner toward the Hero's Sidekick. The Heroine's Sidekick is usually portrayed as a woman who is overweight and wears excessive amounts of makeup.
- The Villain - the antagonist of the story. Driven by greed, the Villain is always looking for the next way to make money. Every script features the Villain kidnapping the Heroine and the Heroine's sidekick. His physical battles with the Hero always end up with the Villain and his sidekick being vanquished and subjected to some odd form of punishment. The Villain dresses in black clothing, and usually sports black facial hair.
- The Villain's Sidekick - is the secondary antagonist of the story. The Villain's Sidekick is usually seen as being easily persuaded, and often deceitful. He helps the Villain carry out evil plans, with hopes of financial gain.
The moviola is a short, silent film shot by a three-person team, and features the characters continuing the story in different areas of Midland. A new moviola is shot every year. The moviola features title cards, which take the place of dialogue. Title cards are also used to notify the audience members that an intermission is beginning.
During several parts of the melodrama, a movie screen drops down and shows what is known as the moviola. This is done for two reasons. One, to advance the storyline, and two, to give the actors some time to take a break.
The moviola relies on sight gags, as well as occasional cameos from local newscasters, politicians, and business owners. In keeping with the Vaudeville style of Summer Mummers, the moviola is sped up significantly, and is shot entirely in black and white.
For many years, the moviola was shot on film. With the increasing availability of video cameras, the moviola transitioned to being shot on video, and projected using a VCR. Eventually, digital video took over, leading the moviola to be burned onto a DVD and projected in a digital format. This has allowed the editor of the moviola to add special digital effects where needed.
The shooting of the moviola is known to be particularly hard on the actors, as they perform purely physical acting (while wearing heavy costumes, wigs, and makeup) in triple-digit temperatures.
After the melodrama is finished, the Olio begins. Composed of approximately 20 "acts," the Olio can best be compared to a comedic variety show. All acts are set to music, and usually last 90 seconds or less. Although many of the acts are replaced every year, some acts have become constant yearly features in the Olio. These include but are not limited to:
- Mule Train - Set to the Frankie Lane version of the song "Mule Train," a cowboy runs onto the stage, lipsyncing with the song. He continues to use a whip on a small, stuffed goat. Despite remaining the same act since the early 1980s, audiences often name Mule Train as their favorite act.
- Les Girls - The Summer Mummers female dance troupe performs a dance routine, in which they proceed to remove various articles of clothing, until wearing only a merry widow.
- The Guys - A male strip routine, in which four male Olio troupe members strip down to their underwear. Actors in this act are required to wear colored boxer briefs. This is to avoid the situation of the intense stage lights making white underwear appear translucent.
- Blackout jokes - When more time is needed to set the stage for the next Olio act, two to three actors will walk onstage and engage in scripted conversation, ending with a punchline. These jokes are known as "groaners." Their function is to give the audience something to which they can react, while giving the stage crew time to set up for the next act.
- CanCan - The Summer Mummers dance troupe performs in the final act of the night, presenting a traditional cancan routine.
- Finale - The entire cast joins onstage to sing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "You're A Grand Old Flag."
The general format of a Summer Mummers performance:
- Reading of the rules
- Moviola #1
- Melodrama Act 1
- Moviola #2
- Moviola #3
- Melodrama Act 2
- Moviola #4
- Moviola #5
- Melodrama Act 3
- Intermission/"The Pitch" (raffle prizes are given away)
- Olio Act 1
- Olio Act 2
Another favorite activity for patrons is the chance to throw popcorn. Popcorn is sold throughout the night, with all of it ending up on the floor of the theater. Popcorn is sold for three dollar per bag, two bags for five dollars, and 8 bags for 20 dollars.
Three-month totals usually come in at approximately $50,000.00.
The Summer Mummers operates a full bar. Patrons trade in cash for alcohol tokens. Those tokens can then be redeemed for alcoholic drinks. Unused tokens can be used at future performances, but cannot be redeemed for cash. Half-price tokens are available for cast and crew members, although performers are not allowed to use the tokens before a performance. Because of this rule, a "beer bitch" is designated for the night. That person's sole purpose is to trade in actors' tokens for drinks, and deliver those drinks to the backstage area.
The souvenir stand offers a wide variety of Summer Mummers merchandise, such as T-shirts, hats, and bobble head of the mule train character. Similar merchandise is made available to the cast and crew, with the addition of the words "Cast & Crew" to the piece of merchandise.
- Melodrama - Don "Woody" Woodward
- Olio - Angelica Sanchez
- Choreographer - Misti Ray
- Moviola - Roger Barnes, Tim Rosborough, Lonnie Richardson
Current board members
- Michael Fields
- John Lyle
- Greg Alexander
- Michelle Wagner
- Ashley Tate
- Cody Massengale
- In its yearly three-month run, Summer Mummers sells more popcorn than any local movie theater sells in an entire year.
- Summer Mummers has featured a few celebrities, including Kathleen Turner, Elliott Forrest, and President George W. Bush.
- The home of Summer Mummers, the Yucca Theater, is a Texas State Historical Landmark.
- Everybody who works on Summer Mummers is a volunteer. This includes actors, crew members, dancer, musicians, bar crew, popcorn crew, and souvenir sellers. The only people who are paid to be there are the police officers assigned to work security and the crew of unfortunates that must clean the hall out after each performance.
- Due to the vast amounts of income generated from alcohol sales, Summer Mummers carefully protects its liquor license. It is for this reason that no drinks of any kind can be brought into, or taken out of, the Yucca Theater.
- Audience members come from across the country to see Summer Mummers, with some regular patrons coming from as far away as France.