Shante Ragin first caught the acting bug when she was just 8 years old at a summer drama camp. Now, she and her husband Kevin have decided to share their passion by opening the Dramatic Arts Productions Theater in Covington, offering not only acting classes, but also first-rate productions, like the one currently playing, the Charles Dickens classic, "A Christmas Carol."
"We decided to open the theater in Covington because after working with the Newton County School System, we saw a need to bring affordable acting classes and stage plays to Covington," said Ragin. "This is the reason why our acting classes are only $20 and tickets to our shows are only $10."
"Patrons have come in during the day to tell us they love the idea that we are here because there is nothing like us around," Ragin said. "There are no acting schools here where students can come in and learn public speaking, how to approach people, how to make a presentation as well as the ‘Art of Theatre.' When I worked as a drama instructor for Newton County Schools, parents would always ask me how their children could take my classes if they were not in the Newton County after-school program. Those questions helped my husband and I understand the need for a theater in Covington was bigger than we expected. There were also times we struggled to get dates at Newton High School to perform shows for even the Newton County students we were teaching, so we understood there needed to be another stage available for community productions."
After several years producing shows and acting themselves, the couple opened the doors of DAP (in Morgan Plaza on Pace Street) in August, just taking in students who wanted acting classes. And although they may have just opened their doors in Covington, the company has been going strong for the last five years when they began the company in order to present "The Wizard of Oz" at the Social Circle Theater. Ragin cast members of the home-school drama class she worked with at the time for the performance of the classic L. Frank Baum story. Along with Shante and Kevin, the couple's three daughters also work in the company, 14-year-olds Marshonna and Jada and 10-year-old Miangel.
The space may be a bit smaller than what the Ragins are used to working with, but it doesn't bother them in the least.
"After working in large spaces such as The Rialto Theater in Atlanta, The Social Circle Theater, The Porter Sanford Theater and Newton High Auditorium, we find our cozy space a breath of fresh air. It is cozy and family friendly," said Ragin. "It gives us a physical chance to reach people without having them feel like the actors are untouchable or the place is too big and intimidating for students to learn. Our acting students feel comfortable here...instead of the black box, we call ourselves the tan box.
"Our theater seats 110 people but we want people to be comfortable so we will, in most cases, not allow more than 80 people in at a time. (In order to ready the space, we had to open a wall to accommodate the stage we had to build). This is just the beginning because in the future we are looking to elevate our seating and make a few other adjustments including enlarging our stage."
Since its inception, the couple has produced more than 30 shows, including two sold-out performances of a play written by the Ragins, "False Profits: God Don't Like Ugly" at the Rialto Theater in Atlanta. They also produced "Punked, Confessions of a Bully," which was shown in Newton County Schools.
The Ragins make sure that every production they do, they are choosing one with a lesson for the viewers. Whether it be the story of a little girl who realized she had everything she needed right at her feet in "The Wizard of Oz," or their current production of "A Christmas Carol," a story of redemption.
"We're never just doing a show," said Ragin. "There's something behind every show we do. There is always a message to be found... Art brings people together. The mission statement of our theater is to bring the community and families together. We feel like it is working...we have had as many as nine members of one family come to see ‘A Christmas Carol' because the pricing is affordable and our theater is close."
Another message the couple hopes to share, that a quality production doesn't have to cost a fortune. Ticket prices start at $10 for "A Christmas Carol," which will be shown Dec. 15 and 22 at 6 p.m. They can be ordered at dramaticartsproductions.com.
The theater also offers Saturday morning acting classes for children third grade and up and classes for adults as well. For more information, visit the DAP Theater website or call (678) 658-8415.