The new Esquire Players theater group had to learn their new play “The Voice of the Prairie” faster than director Michael Powell likes in order to perform it later this week.

But as he told his players last week during their seventh rehearsal, they were coming along just fine.

“The plan was to shake out the mistakes that we’re going to make, and it’s OK, because the likelihood of the same mistakes happening in front of an audience are so much less now because you’ve already addressed them and done them,” he told the group gathered around the Esquire Theater’s stage. “So I feel better after the rehearsal than I did before. You are in a good place, and it is OK.”

Main Street Manager Cindy Deloney, one of the people running the technical aspects of the show, agreed.

“This is going to be a really great show,” she said. “I mean I had very high expectations for the Esquire Players, but for the first show, you’ve like way exceeded my expectations.”

The Esquire Players are a new community organization that plans to produce theater shows at the historic downtown Carthage theater. Auditions for their first play were open to the public, and so many people tried out that they ended up double casting roles, Powell said.

Performances take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8.

“It is a flashback play that runs two stories parallel: one in 1895 and one in 1923,” Powell said. “It’s a comedy and a love story and it’s about the emergence of radio and the prairie of Nebraska. It’s fun. We’re having a lot of fun.”

The group of actors have had just 10 rehearsals from audition to show, and some of them were nervous last week. Mitzi Shuttlesworth plays Frances, an older lady at the end of the show who reconnects with another character.

“You go home and you memorize it and you think you’ve got it down,” Shuttlesworth said. “You say it over and over and over. So tonight thankfully we were able to give me a chance to totally blow them (laughing) and now I think I can get the nerves out of me and I think I’m going to be OK.”

Emma Stapleton, 9, is one of the youngest actors in the play. She said she really likes acting, and playing a newspaper vendor and a school girl, has one of the more intense jobs.

“I jump off the stage and then I run up the aisle!” she said.

Shuttlesworth said she decided to audition for the play because it looked like fun.

“I’ve been up here watching the Country Music Hayride and as soon as they talked about it, I just thought this is something that I can try to do,” she said. “And (Powell’s) right: We can find people here that are interested and this is something that I hope will go on whether we’re all each involved or not. It’s something that we can make a good thing for the community.”

Powell argues theater makes the world a better place because it puts you in someone else’s shoes. Starting up a new community theater group also means you get to meet a whole lot of new people, Powell said.

“It’s just an awesome thing to build something that didn’t exist and give it as a gift to the audience,” he said. “I’m having so much fun.”

Another reason the Esquire Players is so important, according to Powell: The Esquire is a historical building, and the community needs to keep that link with its past.

“We had a show here in... we did ‘Our Town’ here a few weeks ago, and one of the grandparents who came to watch their kid perform had their first date here,” he said. “Just imagine the power of your first date was here and now you’re watching your granddaughter here, and to have a building here in Panola County that can hold that history means a lot to me.”

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Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.