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Branson Behind the Curtain: Copeland Theater

A Series by Discover Branson

6 minute read

Copeland Theater has affectionately been dubbed “Branson’s Best Kept Secret.” Well, the secret’s out, and big things are on the horizon for The Copeland, “Branson’s Theater” in 2023. This year, the theater is hosting a multitude of shows that unite music history with spectacular live performances. Janice Dickerson, who is to thank for bringing both The Hits and On Fire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story to fruition is thrilled for audiences to see what they have been working on. Many exciting changes have recently taken place within and surrounding the theater, including the addition of food trucks right outside of the building, a new gift shop, updated sound technology, and a new, state-of-the-art lighting system. 

The Hits

This year will see the highly anticipated return of The Hits: an energetic, multi-genre exploration of the music that defined the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Starring David Brooks, who is renowned for his award-winning performance in The Million Dollar Quartet, The Hits takes viewers on a melodic journey through time. A uniquely strong element of this show is its use of live instrumentals, rather than tracks, to further bring the iconic music to life. The Hits also features outstanding vocalist Phaedra, while guitarist Mario Faure, drummer Brian Duvall, and singer/bassist Bill Foster make up the exceptional band. With a lively selection of hit songs and a masterful cast of musicians, you are guaranteed to be entertained by The Hits. 

On Fire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story

In this brand-new show, David Brooks assumes his previous role as Jerry Lee Lewis from The Million Dollar Quartet. The distinction between the two shows, though, is that On Fire takes viewers through the entire eventful life of the legendary rock ‘n’ roller. At the heart of On Fire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story is a genuine payment of homage from Brooks to Lewis; Brooks considers Jerry Lee Lewis to be one of his most important stylistic inspirations. Following the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis in October of last year, Brooks felt compelled to honor his memory and embrace his legacy. Brooks wrote and developed this show to showcase the monumental influence that Jerry Lee Lewis had not only on rock music, but on music altogether. Copeland Theater is ecstatic to debut this lively production and to tell the fascinating story of Jerry Lee Lewis through the music that immortalized him. 

A Conversation with Janice Dickerson

Janice Dickerson is something of a Renaissance woman. After working as a journalist for twenty years, she functioned as the coordinator of several craft and music festivals across Missouri. She has also been involved in real estate investing. For more than a decade, her work has revolved around developing and promoting Branson shows. Her interest in theater began in childhood when she would organize plays for the kids in her neighborhood to perform. “[My mom] would put quilts out on the [clothes]line to air out, and I would write a show,” she said with a laugh, before continuing, “I was nine years old, I would write a show and give everyone their script, all the neighbor kids. They would come over, and I would introduce them. They had to learn their parts. And I thought that was fun.” 

While Dickerson has always enjoyed theater, she pursued other things as she got older. She considers the social norms that were in place when she was coming of age, saying, “When I was in high school, girls were supposed to be either nurses or teachers. I knew good and well I couldn’t be a nurse. So, I thought, ‘Okay, of those two, teaching sounds better than nursing.’ So, that’s what I was going [to college] for: a teaching degree.” It was through college that Dickerson rediscovered her love for theater, and at the same time gravitated toward journalism. “As I got into journalism classes and theater in college, it was like, ‘I sure like this a lot better than teaching. I would much rather be doing this. And I especially liked theater.’” she explains. Dickerson identifies her background in journalism and communications to be crucial to her success in other professional endeavors. 

When Dickerson was twenty-two years old, she was looking to buy a house when she became aware of an opportunity in the real estate industry. “I felt like we needed a lot more real estate offices. I felt like I knew what people were looking for, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I get my real estate license?’ Dickerson says. She then came across an ad in the newspaper from a real estate firm seeking a new agent. The ad offered to put their new hire through a training program, prompting Dickerson, who by this time had realized that a career in teaching was not the right fit for her, to apply for the position. She elaborates on this experience, saying, “I answered the ad, and they said, ‘Lady, if you have the courage to answer an ad for a man, come on in and talk to [us].’” Choosing to subvert this discriminatory sentiment, Dickerson visited this real estate office, recalling, “There was no one in there but men. I went back, talked to [the interviewer] at his desk, and all of these men were just kind of looking. And I thought, ‘This is not going to work out too well.’ So, I didn't do it.” Despite this unsettling incident, Dickerson remained determined to explore other professions and find her place in a career she would enjoy.

Dickerson desired a career in which creativity was valued. “I like things a little bit different. I was not [really] good at staying in the mainstream and doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” She soon found a position as a journalist at a newspaper. “I was writing newspaper articles, then I [wrote articles] for a monthly magazine. Just anything, anything I could find.” Concurrently, it was through attending and writing newspaper articles about festivals that Dickerson found her next venture. She began to assist with festival organization, working with musicians and essentially scouting talent to be included in festival lineups. She says, “Again, it was still a little bit, you know, a man was supposed to be president of the festival. And I thought, ‘I can do anything any of them can do.’ I had to prove myself.” Dickerson went on to vastly improve the quality and exponentially increase the scope of multiple festivals throughout Missouri. “I didn’t settle for a mediocre festival. It had to be really good.” she says. Dickerson had meaningful encounters with the artists and artisans involved in these festivals while seeing unmatched success as a result of her contributions. 

Dickerson’s time coordinating festivals more than prepared her for her current role directing The Hits and On Fire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story at Copeland Theater. The camaraderie between the cast and crew at this theater is not something you see every day, and their collective commitment to excellence is something truly special. It is evident that Dickerson completely loves what she does. She reflects on her past endeavors, saying, “There were parts of [those jobs] that I liked, but…that’s making a living. This is having a good time.” 

Seeing these shows at Copeland Theater is not something you will want to miss. The Hits is playing now, and On Fire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story is scheduled to open on April 6. For showtimes, please reference Copeland Theater’s website. For exclusive prices on tickets to either of these incredible Branson shows, please contact Discover Branson. 

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