By Cindy Rinker
When Artistic Director Lori Staley looks at the stage in front of her, she is proud and a little amazed by the work a handful of volunteers, public donations and grants have done to transform the historic building into Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg, VA.
“When I first came to the theater, it was in horrible shape,” she said. “It was quite dilapidated.”
Theatre Shenandoah was started in the early 2000s by Barbara Strong, a well-known music teacher and theater coach in the area. She would use the stage in the old building as a rehearsal area and the plays would have to be performed elsewhere.
“Some performances were at the Charter House School. Others at local churches, even Massanutten Military Academy (in Woodstock),” Lori said.
When Barbara left the area, Theatre Shenandoah went dormant. Several people were still interested in performances, but much had to be done to make the 100+ year old building – once the town hall and a firehall – into a true theater.
Two champions of the arts stepped forward and gave a true boost. Mike and Sue Horne pretty much single-handedly refurbished the building, even adding two bathrooms where there had only been one before.
They even added walls downstairs to create dressing rooms for men and women and in 2012 the theater opened again. The first two plays were a Christmas show and Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. “They were well-received,” Lori said.
In the spring of 2013, they decided to take on Jesus Christ Superstar and Lori was tapped to direct it. “It is one of my favorites,” she said. And it was a smash. All shows were sold out!
Lori, who also is President of Theatre Shenandoah, makes no money for her talent. Neither do the board members or the cast. It is a non-profit community theater run on ticket sales, donations and a passion for theater arts.
The lack of salary does not diminish the vision of the board nor the enthusiasm of the cast members. Lori is especially proud of the strength of local youth actors and Theatre Shenandoah chooses productions featuring young actors. The Wizard of Oz, performed in 2018, had a cast of 40, many of them youth and even children (munchkins).
“I am always amazed by the very talented youth actors in the Shenandoah Valley,” Lori said with a smile. “We try to incorporate as many as we can. We cater to the talent we have.”
The majority of theater-goers come from the local area. “Between Harrisonburg and Winchester, mostly,” she said, adding that they do sometimes get travelers and people who are staying at area bed and breakfasts too.
In addition to the renovations in 2010-2012, the theater also received a grant for new lighting which has made an immense improvement in the productions. “Before we had the tree lights (vertical racks near the stage) and now we have these,” she said pointing at the rows of LED lights hanging from the ceiling.
Another donation enabled them to upgrade the air conditioning. “The old units were loud and if you turned them off to keep them from blocking sound from the stage, everyone just wilted,” she said. The new ones were purring quietly in the background blowing a cool breeze as she talked.
The nine members of the board do just about everything from cleaning to selling tickets. This was evidenced when Lori grappled with two large bags of trash that she had to put outside.
They have two set builders who take turns building the sets for the performance. The Arsenic and Old Lace stage features old fashioned furniture and portraits on the walls. Even a marble-topped table. Some items they reuse and keep in storage. Other things are borrowed to make the sets just right.
The 2019-2020 season features old favorites, a musical and a comedy. Arsenic and Old Lace is playing in October. Theatre Shenandoah will revisit the very popular Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol in December. Matilda, a bright musical based on the 1988 novel of the same name, will be featured in April/May, You Can’t Take it With You, a comedic play in three acts will show in June and A Fox on the Fairway, a comedy set in a private golf club, will close out the year in August.
General admission tickets for adults are $15 and $12 for students and senior citizens. All front row seats are $20.
For more information about the 1019-2020 season and to order your tickets, go to theatreshenandoah.org. Make plans to visit and experience community theater at its best.
Cindy Earehart Rinker is a writer and storyteller with Write Words of Shenandoah County.