Drama on Display
|Community thespians perform “The Matchmaker” in 2003.|
There are three well-established theaters in the area, and all three date their origins to the 1970s and early 1980s. However, the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck have a history of theater that dates back to the 1800s.
Long before the first radios or silent movie films came to the area, hometown drama clubs were already established. These clubs provided entertainment for the community and also spearheaded other cultural changes in the area.
For instance, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Urbanna had its own “Urbanna Dramatic Club” and Lancaster had the “Lancaster Dramatic Troupe.” The amateur thespian groups performed seasonally on stage.
These actors would travel from community to community performing well-attended shows. In August 1908, members of the Lancaster Dramatic Troupe came to Urbanna and performed
“Fisherman’s Luck” in the old Masonic Lodge building on the corner of Cross and Watling streets.
The Masonic Lodge was a three-story building built in 1877. The building was widely used by the community. Theater performances were held on the bottom floor with the second and third floors utilized for dressing rooms for actors and actresses.
These small acting groups raised funds and used the money to better their own communities. For instance, in 1909 the “school lot,” known today as Taber Park and now owned by the Town of Urbanna, became public property when members of the Urbanna Dramatic Club, whose chairman was W.C. Fitzhugh, used club funds to purchase the land for a school.
Urbanna School was built in 1911 on this lot on Rappahannock Avenue and it served as a school until closing in 1962. At that time, the old school building and property was turned over to the Town of Urbanna and today the land is used as a public park and for outdoor cultural events.
These acting clubs were the forerunners to today’s playhouse groups.
The Westmoreland Players is a non-profit amateur theater group based near Callao. It was formed in 1979 in Westmoreland County and dedicated to providing the Northern Neck with enjoyable theater.
In the summer of 2000, the Players purchased land and built a small theater outside of Callao. The Westmoreland Players are in the process now of expanding that facility and construction began this spring.
In the summer of 2005 the group was named the “Best Community Theatre in Virginia” by readers of Cooperative Living Magazine. The Players’ first performance was Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in the fall of 1979.
Since then, the group has grown and this season Players will perform the comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde. Performances will be on May 31 and June 15 and will be directed and produced by Glenn and Joy Evans.
A week-long Missoula Children’s Theatre workshop will be held at the Westmoreland Players Theatre July 14-19 and will feature “Robinson Crusoe.”
In August, the 2008 Director’s Showcase will feature Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite.” Dinner-theater performances will be held August 9, 10, 16, and 17, while “Bistro” (audiences seated at tables without dinner) performances will be held August 8, 14 and 15.
“Plaza Suite” is a three-act play and each act stands alone as a separate vignette taking place in the same suite in a hotel.
Each act will have a different cast and a different director.
The Westmoreland Players Theatre is at 16217 Richmond Road (Route 360) just a mile west of Callao. Call (804) 529-9345 for information.
Organized theater in Lancaster County dates back to the Lancaster Dramatic Troupe that performed at the end of the 19th century and at the start of the 20th century. Today the Lancaster Players in White Stone carry on that tradition.
The Players’ origin dates from 1970 when a group of mothers sought to create something for their children. The group started performing children’s plays and producing puppet shows.
As the community theater group began to grow, a band of enthusiastic thespians staged productions throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In the early years, they performed on different stages throughout the community, but in the 1990s the group found a home in the old White Stone fire station.
Kerley LeBoeuf, the vice president of the Lancaster Players, said the Lancaster Players began to fade away about four years ago, “Six of us gathered and decided to resurrect the theater,” he said. “The old firehouse was totally gutted inside and renovated. Now we have an active board of 12 people and we plan to put on six productions this year.”
The most recent show was “The Mousetrap” on May 9-10. This was a classic thriller that has been performed every year in London for 52 years.
In July, the group will perform “Three Women and Friends,” in August, the musical “Mary Poppins,” and in November, “Rumors” by Neil Simon. For reservations call 435-3776. The theater is on 361 Chesapeake Drive in downtown White Stone.
The Court House Players was founded in 1979 by the late Dick Lusher, who died in 2005 leaving a legacy of over 100 performances in Gloucester and Mathews. The group’s first performance was “Barefoot in the Park” in 1980.
The Court House Players provides community theater for Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex. The Players’ next production is “Moonlight and Magnolias” on June 19-22 at the American Legion Hall on Buckley Hall Road (Route 198) at Hudgins in Mathews County. Dinner theaters will be held June 19-21 at 6:30 p.m. The show on June 22 will be at 3 p.m. (no dinner). Call 725-3414 or 694-5471 for information.
A November musical comedy, “Nunsensations,” will be held at Mathews High School November 13-16.
Anita Minuth, a charter member of the group, said Court House Players has performed over 25 musicals with casts as large as 50 to 100. “We started with little plays and worked our way up,” she said.
Minuth also said the group is the sponsor of the summer Missoula Children’s Theatre on the Middle Peninsula. “Our purpose is to provide cultural awareness throughout the community,” she said.
Other area theaters are the Peninsula Community Theatre, Poquoson Island Players, and The Williamsburg Players.
The Peninsula Community Theatre is located in the Village Theatre on Warwick Blvd. at the corner of Main Street in Historic Hilton Village.
The Poquoson Island Players perform in the Poquoson Middle School auditorium, 985 Poquoson, Ave., Poquoson.
The Williamsburg Players are located just off Route 143 (Second Street/Merrimac Trail) in Williamsburg.