To the cast of "Last Chance Liquor," Wichita Scottish Rite Signature Theatre's final show of the season, North Newton resident Dalton Smith is known as an expert in small town life.
Smith grew up in Moundridge and got involved in theater and forensics in high school.
"The coach was Mark Stucky, who had coached debate and forensics at Bethel before he'd gone on to do some high school coaching," Smith said. "I came into a culture of people who were excited about being intellectual and who were ready to work at it."
While some students were drawn to debate, Smith found the forensics activities more appealing since it gave him the opportunity to perform monologues.
"It's kind of like a track meet, because there are about a dozen different events that you can do, ranging from giving an informative speech that you wrote yourself to performing a funny monologue to drawing a topic at the beginning of an hour and researching it and giving a speech about world affairs," Smith said.
Forensics and debate helps students from middle school through college build skills that include communication, critical thinking and problem solving, all of which are valuable in the digital age.
"It's so important if we're going to actually keep up interpersonal interactions — empowering teenagers to start taking those things seriously and understanding that their words matter, that what they have to say is important," Smith noted.
It also allowed him to make friends with students from other schools and learn how to give constructive criticism to his classmates.
"That's actually where I got my first experience coaching, with my peers when I was 16 or 17," Smith said. "I think that experience was important to me and also to other students as they grow."
That is why he went on to earn a communication arts degree from Bethel College while assistant coaching forensics at Newton High School.
"It is something that empowers people — they go on to become leaders," Smith said.
Smith now teaches English and speech and coaches the debate and forensics team at Trinity Catholic High School in Hutchinson. The team won a state championship in four-speaker debate earlier this year.
The principles of performance are the same in forensics and theater, Smith noted.
"It's the same thing. You're telling a story...and you want that story to have an impact," Smith said. "You get a script and that's the bones of a story. ...Actors bring the story to life until, at the end, hopefully the audience walks away having had an experience that they can relate to."
Smith has been in several shows with Newton Community Theatre and Wichita Scottish Rite Signature Theatre, but none hits home quite like his latest role.
"'Last Chance Liquor' is a very interesting show," Smith said. "I know, for me, it really resonates with a lot of stuff that I've experienced."
“Last Chance Liquor” tells the story of Rayette Boulanger, who has arrived unannounced in the small,
failing Kansas town she left decades ago.
Written by Wichita playwright Anne Welsbacher, “Last Chance Liquor” depicts the culture and conflicts in a small town that line up with his own experiences, Smith said.
"The town Cortona is falling apart at the seams. More people move out than move in. All of the businesses have had their customer base taken away by a regional, large chain, so there's not much going on," Smith said.
Rayette, a Hollywood actress, comes home because her mother is dying — something the whole town is aware of and asks her about whenever they see her. Meanwhile, Rayette's father, a former alcoholic, has taken over the town liquor store and runs AA meetings in the back room.
"There's a lot of sardonic humor and it definitely tries to keep it light even though it's talking about a lot of serious things," Smith said.
Smith's character, Steve, is on the town council and wants to resurrect the town and reconnect with Rayette.
"He kind of conscripts Rayette to help him with this project," Smith said. "It really is a show about relationships and how people act when they haven't seen each other for a long time."
“Last Chance Liquor” will be performed at 8 p.m. on August 18 and 19 and at 7 p.m. August 20 at the Wichita Scottish Rite Theatre, 332 E. First St. in Wichita.
Tickets may be reserved by calling Select-a-Seat at 855-755-7328 or may be purchased at the door.
Ticket prices are $18, $14 and $10 with discounts for all students, military and seniors.