CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jennifer Garner still remembers when the curtain came down on the final performance of her first stage show.
"I remember crying my head off backstage. Some of the older performers were saying, 'Yes, that's what it's like when a show's over.'"
She was in the seventh grade and in the chorus of "Barnum," performed by the Charleston Light Opera Guild in 1985.
"I was raised by the Charleston Light Opera Guild," said the award-winning actress who will be in Charleston this week for a red-carpet benefit for the Guild.
Growing up in Charleston, the 39-year-old Garner performed in six Guild productions. She will probably talk about those shows to theatergoers at 7:30 p.m. June 18 before the performance of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in the Civic Center Little Theater.
"It's so important to support local community theater. Miss Denton puts on quality shows. The quality of her shows is unbelievable for a town the size of Charleston. She's a treasure, a real treasure," Garner said.
As Guild director, Nina Denton Pasinetti cast the young Garner in her early roles and taught her ballet at the Appalachian Youth Jazz-Ballet Company.
In a phone interview, Garner also recalled her role as Louise in "Gypsy," a summer Guild offering. "It's such a small thing, but one of the Charleston newspapers gave me a good review. It really validated what I was doing.
"I was working at Kelley's Men's Shop. The people there bought me flowers and had the review. That's another community I loved. They were so sweet and supportive."
(In a 1990 Gazette review of "Gypsy," reviewer Bob Schwarz wrote, "Garner sings with considerable clarity and range and sparkles.")
At the time, Garner said she never believed she would have a career in the performing arts. Community theater was just an activity, but one she was passionate about and one that was very beneficial to her and other youth.
Working under the tutelage of Pasinetti "wasn't all butterflies and lollipops," Garner said. But she said she learned discipline and responsibility and was led by a person with tremendous integrity.
"She's tough, but you want a tough person in your kids' lives. I was lucky to have had her," Garner said.
Pasinetti has been Garner's guest at various theater openings and film premiers. Garner will bring mementoes from some of those events when she comes to town.
The mementoes will be offered in a silent auction held during a gala reception following Saturday's performance.