Fest memories: Woman was Arts Council teen rep in ’70s

This is the fourth in a series of stories about people who have been involved in the 50-year history of the Summer Arts Festival.

Kimberly Koehler’s Summer Arts Festival experience has given her a ride on a carousel, to the circus and to Middle-earth.

Starting as a preteen performer in a 1969 Junior Service League theater production of “Circus in the Wind,” for young Kimberly summer in Springfield meant a new character and production.

“It was such a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “We rode our bikes to rehearsals. It was great to meet people from other schools with the goal to put on a great show. It was a great way to grow up.”

Probably Koehler’s favorite summer was 1973, beginning with an unusual show: an all-female production of “The Hobbit.” Koehler played the wizard Gandalf, and her dad, Bill Koehler, built her magic wand.

That summer’s musical production, “Oliver,” was also unforgettable. Koehler claims her first crush at age 15 was on the actor playing the Artful Dodger.

“We had a great summer together,” she said, smiling.

Also noteworthy was the participation of her mom, Joyce, who also served as Springfield Arts Council board president, and sisters, and concern when the lead’s voice began to change during rehearsals.

Koehler also worked as an Arts Council teen representative in the mid-1970s, something of a forerunner to the current Youth Arts Ambassadors. She and fellow reps helped pass the hat at shows and sat in planning meetings with the adults, even giving feedback.

“We were treated with the respect of an adult,” she said.

The 1975 production of “The Music Man” saw Koehler playing Zanetta. She flashed back to the “primitive” surroundings then, opposed to the modern Arts Festival conveniences such as circus tents for the cast changing rooms, porta-toilets instead of indoor restrooms and the makeup table being a picnic table.

The trick to putting on the makeup was to apply it before it melted off, Koehler said. “It rained all week, but we had 3,000 people for Sunday’s show. And I fell on the wet asphalt.”

Her last big production was “Carousel” in the Bicentennial summer of 1976, and it may have been the most memorable for Koehler.

Her parents were both in it and the set boasted a full-size carousel the cast enjoyed outside of rehearsals and shows.

“Years later I got my mom a carousel as a gift. It brought back those memories,” Koehler said.

Her love of musicals led Koehler to study theater management at Wright State University, going on to work for Dayton’s Victory Theater in marketing and is currently with the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance.

Living outside of Springfield, Koehler has gotten back to Summer Arts Festivals off and on. She was motivated to come to June’s 50th anniversary reception by a social media post from one of her “Hobbit” castmates.

It reminded her of why it’s lasted so long and likely will in the future:

“They partner with enthusiastic volunteers, businesses and sponsors. No matter the financial challenges, the Arts Council can adapt. People need musical theater.”

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Contact this contributing writer at bturner004@woh.rr.com.