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Summer Mummers Returns To The Stage

Midland actors recently returned to the stage to perform a show that some say is at the heart of the West Texas city's culture — Summer Mummers. 

Hundreds are turning out after they had to stay home last year to see the three-hour show filled with classic melodrama, dancing and a lot of bad jokes.

Flanked by two gilded sphinx, Mike Sherrod sits at a piano at Midland’s historic Yucca Theater preparing for tonight’s showing of Summer Mummers. 

As he practices some of the music for the performance, Sherrod explains how he scores the show live, adapting the music to whatever happens on the stage in front of him. 

He says, "It’s like you’re going on an adventure, you know an exciting adventure each show."

Sherrod started playing piano for Summer Mummers when he was 18 and for decades has created the soundtrack for countless performances. The show usually runs all summer, every Friday and Saturday from June to September.

For decades, the Midland Community Theater has put on Summer Mummers as a fundraiser. If you ask what the show is about you’ll be told, “It can’t be explained...it has to be experienced.”

But Don Woodward, the M.C. for tonight's show, describes it like this: “It’s a three hour beer drinking popcorn throwing good time.”

Woodward has been a part of Summer Mummers for years and says it's the longest relationship in his life. And up on the stage, it's apparent he's an old pro as he gets the crowd going.

The audience cheers and boos as the play’s heroes and villains come on to the stage. Actors tell bad jokes, hamming it up while the crowd chucks popcorn at them and at each other.

It’s pretty silly, but Woodward says the show is a release for Midlanders, especially after 2020 when Summer Mummers couldn’t be performed in front of a live audience.

"We’ve been doing this now for 73 years so we have a long storied history behind this so it’s very unique to midland. So last year was very tragic," he explains.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic isn’t over, tonight the theater is packed. And the vast majority aren’t wearing masks. Only around 41% of eligible Midlanders have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest state data. But the presence of the virus and the lack of precautions doesn’t really seem to worry anyone.  

"It was time to laugh again. It was time to get out," says Woodward. "It was time to, you know, put our best foot forward and help people kind of get over this madness we’ve all been living through."

Shea Mcclean agrees. She drove about two hours from San Angelo to see tonight’s show.

“It’s been a relief." She says. "Everybody’s having a great time cutting up with each other. You don’t even know these people and you’re throwing popcorn at each other and having fun and smiling and laughing.”

Just before midnight, the show came to a close and people filtered out of the Yucca Theater into a warm night. The crowd buzzing —  just happy to be out and about.  

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.