MGA’s Impromptu Players Founder Makes Her Exit

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2016 3:51 PM
Categories: College of Arts and Sciences | Pressroom

Macon, GA

For Amy Ferrell of Warner Robins, the theatre program at what is now Middle Georgia State University was a lifesaver.

A self-described shy loner with just a few friends in high school, she enrolled at the former Macon College in the mid-1990s when she was 18. Drawn to the college's Impromptu Players acting troupe, Ferrell soon became a fixture in the campus theatre scene, taking on roles in “Voice of the Prairie,” “Cabaret,” “Westside Story,” “King Chemo” and “The Antics of Romantics.”

For other productions, Ferrell was assistant director, stage manager or props coordinator.

"It was like I found my tribe," said Ferrell, now 39, who went on to a career in tech support and is now finishing up her bachelor's degree in IT from Middle Georgia State. "The theatre program gave me a close-knit group of friends I could lean on. In some ways, it saved my life. To this day, Sydney is one of my most favorite people on the planet."

“Sydney” is Sydney Chalfa, founder of the Impromptu Players and, for a decade or so, one of the region’s most prolific live theatre directors. Between 1990 and the early 2000s, Chalfa directed some 70 plays for the University’s theatre program. Hundreds of students appeared in her productions, along with dozens of community members who were cast in various roles.

You could always spot “the theatre kids” on the Macon Campus. They really were a tribe, hanging out at all hours of the day or night in and around the lobby of the Arts Complex Theatre. Late evenings and early mornings – post performance - would find many of them at Denny’s or Shoney’s, or even at Chalfa’s home in northwest Macon.

Chalfa retires this spring as associate professor of Theatre after more than a quarter of a century at Middle Georgia State. Although the heyday of her University play directing passed by some years ago, Chalfa wanted to bring her Impromptu Players tribe together one last time. Assisted by some of those former players, including Ferrell, she organized an April 23 reunion that drew five dozen people who had been a part of the theatre program at one time or another.

Some came from as far away as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Intense interest in the reunion did not surprise Chalfa.

“Creating theatre is a process of collaboration, creating and sharing,” she said. “You spend many, many hours together and reveal a lot about yourself. Each show becomes its own family unit. You leave a show with special memories that you will always share with that group.”

Mitchell Brinkley of Macon appeared in several Chalfa-directed plays, including “Cobb,” “Angels in America” and “Rocky Horror Show.” He also helped organize the reunion.

“Sydney brought us closer together by casting us in roles we never would have thought of playing,” said Brinkley, now 37 and a production manager at WGXA news. “She helped us see what the world is like through the plays she picked, some of which were kind of controversial. Being a part of the Impromptu Players changed all of us for the better.”

The reunion featured a morning meet-and-greet in the lobby of the Arts Complex Theatre, followed by a tour of the Macon Campus, which has changed considerably since the earliest days of the Impromptu Players. After an early dinner, theatre alumni attended a performance of the last play Chalfa directed for the University, “Betty the Yeti.” (Her first, in 1990, was “Another Antigone.”)

“Had a wonderful time seeing everyone from ‘back in the day,’ and the awesome cast of Betty the Yeti!” alumna Heather Higdon Walenceus wrote on the event’s Facebook page. “Truly a memorable evening. Thank you Sydney, for your inspiration and example …”

Chalfa, who plans to do some playwriting in her retirement and dote on a granddaughter due in July, said she hopes she is remembered at MGA as someone who “pushed the envelope in my productions and classes.

“There is no learning or growth if we simply stay safe inside our ‘boxes,’” she said. “Theatre is a wonderful, safe way to experience the lives and situations of people unlike ourselves.”

To see photos and more comments about the reunion, visit the event’s Facebook page: Middle Georgia State University Theatre Homecoming.