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Region blessed with theatrical excellence

By Staff | Jun 24, 2011

First, let me offer my theatrical credentials in brief. I’ve studied theatre and communication in four major U.S. universities for more than a decade, earning three degrees – including an MA and Ph.D. Secondly, my first stage appearance was 72 years ago, and since retiring to the Eastern Panhandle in 1993, I’ve appeared on stages in all four states in the region with increasing frequency, including “The Thurber Carnival” and a cameo role in the next Full Circle Theater Company production in Shepherdstown. Finally, I served as pro bono theatrical editor for six pages of theatre in the bi-monthly quad-states MAIN ARTery magazine of the arts two years.

This region is blessed with more than 30 organizations producing quality live stage events in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, an hour’s driving time of Shepherdstown. Two such organizations offer consistent excellence: the summer musicals at Shenandoah University and July’s Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown.

Each event is run by a remarkable individual – indefatigable Harold Herman (Shenandoah) and dashing Ed Herendeen at CATF (Shepherd.) Bear in mind, each group faces a different, unique challenge. Shenandoah musicals offer more than 30,000 seats in some 32 performances – virtually dictating choice of popular, well-known shows. The CATF, of course, normally has been limited to four one-act plays in rather small theatres. Thus, tickets are at a premium. Also much of CATF’s audience is not local.

Yet the power of live theatre is seldom found in either magnificent musicals or one-act plays – modern and compelling as both may be. Rather the basis of all community/academic theatre remains the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland metaphor: “We need money for a good cause, so let’s put on a show!” Often such shows are fun to watch and a delight to perform – yet seldom make money.

Few groups anywhere produce powerful staged live theatre – from treasured, prize-winning classics to gripping modern shows that may become classic. Yet such is the mission of Shepherdtown’s own Full Circle Theater Company. Within a few seasons they’ve produced highly praised live theatre – with power, quality and meaning! Yet they attract relatively few attendees.

“The Last of the Boys,” which recently closed, was a splendid ensemble of three male and two female actors analyzing the role of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara prolonging the Vietnam War. Surely with similar fighting in at least three nations – currently Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – this remains a fitting U.S. topic. Both militants and peaceniks have valid views essential to maintaining our democracy and security.

This local Shepherdstown theatrical group needs your patronage as much as you need their replications of modern life and expansion of survival attitudes. Their next season includes six outstanding productions – the best-known “Equus,” “Man of la Mancha” (possibly their first musical) and Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler.” I know of no theatre group in this entire region with such an ambitious schedule. It behooves the community of Shepherdstown – indeed all the Eastern Panhandle – to take pride in and support this remarkable resource.

My graduate study also included an MBA, thus I doubt the dedicated people behind this Full Circle group – some on stage, others simply stalwart supporters of quality theatre – can maintain operations forever without more attendance. So while I’ve seldom seen a more diligent group than FCTC, its often powerful productions remain virtually unknown. The stage is small. The seats are hard. While cushions have been added, the house has only 100 seats. All too often, a large cast may outnumber attendees.

This is a shame! A play is just like a commercial airplane. There’s only one opportunity to fill each seat! FCTC needs more attendees – both visitor and homefolk alike.

Never forget more attendees at downtown Shepherdstown, FCTC means more patrons at restaurants, clubs and art, gift and craft shops which have so long made Shepherdstown Jefferson County’s artistic center. In turn, Shepherd University makes Shepherdstown the intellectual center of the county; yet has the option of attending dynamic, classic plays at FCTC yet penetrated the minds of all Shepherd students? Is Full Circles’s special student rate (less than half-price) widely known?

While neither mankind nor theatre can live by bread alone, we should not forget successful regional theatres – such as Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, Signature Theatre and even the awesome Kennedy Center – all with nearly sold-out houses – still operate only due to additional large public donations. Yet right here on a literal shoe-string, a hometown art operation like Full Circle is still looking for, and needing badly, near-sellout audiences – let alone, public and private donations. A few financial angels won’t hurt, either!