Doug Torres hoists Jackson County Players through pandemic

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Doug Torres is the President of the Jackson County Players, the only theater group in the area.

When Doug Torres walked into his first theater practice at Ripley Library, he had no idea what to expect. He was 9. Now, at 21, he's the President of the Jackson County Players. 

As he practiced for his first play, Dr. Seuss' version of Pirates of Penzance, Torres described himself as a turtle stuck in its shell. He was so shy at first.

As he was practicing for his role as major general, he was shown a clip of the general's song. It was sung so quickly Torres froze with fear. Then, jokingly, he was told to perform it faster  he was petrified. 

Since it was a kids play he was told to speak the song, not sing it. This provided a wave of relief, but it was short-lived.

He could feel his heart thumping in his chest as he approached the curtain. But once he stepped on stage, all of the nerves disappeared. He spoke the song slow, but that didn't matter because he was having fun. 

"It just sparked the love of theater of my life," he said. 

From then on, he knew he wanted to be on a stage. But as he got older, he aged out of the children's theater group -- there wasn't an option for middle schoolers. From sixth to eighth grade, he took refuge in band class. Looking back, he said something was missing, but he didn't know what it was until his sophomore year of high school. It was theater. 

Rushes of adrenaline and creativity 

It doesn't matter if Torres is performing on stage or directing a program, he'll have a smile on his face. Theater has become an escape for him.

It's been a tool for him to figure out who he is. He doesn't shy away from big ideas, he welcomes them. He welcomes creativity with open arms and he is looking for ways to be more inclusive. 

He's always recruiting. He thinks back to his middle school years without theater and he wants to provide opportunities he didn't have when he was younger. That's why he created a middle and high school performance group two years ago. 

Torres believes anyone can get on a stage and rehearse lines or help paint sets or even direct a show. They just need a chance. 

He enjoys watching cast members grow into their characters. Torres guides unsure voices through their lines shortly after casting and watches their confidence and dedication shine through on stage. 

When he's not on stage, he's directing, giving critiques, painting sets or promoting an upcoming performance. He loves the adrenaline rush of performing, but directing has become his favorite because he gets to invest in the talent Jackson County has to offer. 

"I just want them to have that outlet to show how creative they are," he said. 

Torres has made friends with someone in every performance he's been in. He's even garnered a few role models. Christina Iman, who was his high school English teacher and also in charge of the theater club, has been a person he's constantly admired since Pirates of Penzance. 

As a board member of Jackson County Players, Iman has been a first-hand witness of Torres' growth over the years. He's been president for nearly a year, and Iman said he's brought dedication, enthusiasm and ideas the group has never seen before. He always thinks ahead. 

"I think we needed some young blood in there," she said. 

Growing pains for the players

Torres is finishing up his last year at West Liberty University where he's majoring in music education. He comes into Jackson County about once a month for practice. 

As Torres navigated the group through the COVID-19 pandemic, he made some changes. He led the group's first-ever virtual, and radio broadcasted performances. He's adapted the group so that people can still participate and enjoy the theater despite the pandemic. 

He wants to give people an outlet to be creative, especially during the pandemic. People need to feel included and wanted, he said. 

"It's showed me I can be creative and think of a problem or something and think of it in a different way," he said. 

Even with those obstacles, Torres said being president this past year has brought him unmeasurable joy. 

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.