Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fandangle players start from the cradle

'Summer just isn't right without it'

By Mary Garvin
Special to the Reporter-News
Saturday, June 21, 2008

ALBANY -- Nine-year-old Grant Head is not himself tonight.

Tonight, he is a cowboy -- one who wears leather boots and shoots things with his brand new (fake) shiny pistol. Tonight is the Fort Griffin Fandangle, and it's "go" time.

"Being a cowboy is awesome!" Grant said. "I'm a cowboy 'cause cowboys are tough and get to play with guns, and that's cool."

The Fandangle is an annual outdoor musical based on the history of West Texas held in Albany each summer during the last two weeks in June. The show's cast of animals and characters includes cattle, horses, cowboys, Indians and saloon girls. Cast members ages range from 6 months to 90 years old, and they're groomed from the cradle.

"Albany kids are raised in Fandangle. They know that as soon as summer hits, its Fandangle time," said Fandangle veteran Lorna Ayers. "My family definitely revolves around Fandangle. This year my daughter is playing Sally Jane in 'Canyon Courtin'', just like I did at her age and just like her older sister did."

Between acts, tiny Indians and cowboys as young as 2 run wild backstage, their bare feet caked with dirt and wild excitement fluttering in their eyes. With about 150 kids, two "pens" have been created to corral the children so they don't get hurt by horses or moving sets.

"My daughter will run off to one of the pens with all her friends, and I won't see her all night. They have so much fun," said cast member Pam Cope. "Even after Fandangle is over, my grandson is still excited and hyper. They both absolutely love the Fandangle."

One act that high school and junior high students participate in is "Huppi Hi," a couples dance. When May rolls around and practices begin, gossip fills the halls of Albany junior and senior high schools about who will dance with whom in the show. Will they be paired with a partner of their dreams or one that makes them scream?

"I got luckier than some of my friends this year and got to dance with my boyfriend," 16-year-old Lindsey Presley said, laughing. "In the dance there are lifts and spins, and I had to trust that he wouldn't drop me. I loved dancing with him because it made us closer."

With almost 50 high school students involved, weekly practices served as a great study break from finals.

"After being so busy with studying and sports all year, it's great to have the chance to hang out with my friends," Lindsey said. "Fandangle is always something to look forward to. We work hard, but it's fun and definitely worth it."

Recent Albany High graduate Megan Schooler has been singing in the Fandangle for five years. Since her first performance in eighth grade, she has sung in every show. Megan, who has also competed in vocal competitions, was recruited by Texas State University's choral department, which she will attend in the fall.

"Fandangle is a great opportunity to perform, and since a lot of important people come, it's a great way to get noticed," she said. "I owe a lot of my stage performance to Fandangle -- without it I wouldn't be where I am today."

When Fandangle's artistic director, Betsy Black-Parsons, was in high school, the Fandangle was the center of social life for teens in Albany. So when Robert Nail died, and Fandangle was put on hold, she said she felt an emptiness. Like Black-Parsons, Laci Boyett, 19, said she would feel a gaping hole in her life without Fandangle.

"Even though I graduated last year, summer just isn't right without it," Boyett said. "Without it, I would be lost."

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