By Jeanne Russell
I grew up the youngest of four children raised by a single mom. Even though we did not have much money, my mom made sure we got to good quality theater.
I remember seeing "Othello" when I was quite young at an outdoor theater near the Washington Monument. I saw "Pearly" at the National Theater, and "Hamlet" at Arena Stage.
Sometimes my mom would buy us standing room tickets at the Kennedy Center. That's when you pay a reduced fee to stand in the back. If someone with a regular ticket doesn't show, you can take their seat, but standing or sitting was still a great deal.
When I was in junior high school, I took a drama class and was able to get discounted season tickets to Arena Stage. I'll never forget the magic of those wonderful shows.
I love the buzz of anticipation just before the lights go down. Then the murmurs and rustling as the audience settles itself. Finally the stage lights go up and you are transported to another world.
Folks who aren't theater-goers don't understand. They'd say you get taken into another world at the movies and it's a lot cheaper. But with theater, you are actually part of the show.
Ask any stage actor and they'll agree that what I'm saying is true. There are live people on that stage. They hear the sounds of surprise, the chuckles, and laughs; and feel the silence. Indeed, the energy of the audience affects every performance. So when you see a play, you are part of something that has never happened exactly the same way before; and it will never happen exactly the same way again. Live theater is unique. Each and every performance is a one-time experience. And the audience helps create that experience.
When I moved to the valley, I was eager to get involved with the local community theater. Theatre Shenandoah welcomed me (and my son Daniel) with open arms and we have been involved with Theatre Shenandoah in one way or another ever since.
We also discovered Wayside Theatre in Middletown. Not only was Wayside an excellent professional theater but they had a children's education program. Soon, Daniel was enrolled in Young Performers Workshops and later participated in the Young Ambassador's Guild. He was even cast in several main stage shows. I'll be forever grateful for the mentoring, support, and guidance that Daniel received from Warner Crocker, Thomasin Savaiano, and the actors, and staff at Wayside Theatre.
Now that my son is grown, I've started performing in some community theater productions myself. What thrill! It's my secret dream to one day get up the nerve to audition for a professional show at Wayside Theater; but I don't know if I'll ever get the nerve. They are so good.
Recently, Wayside underwent a financial crisis that could have squashed my dream for good. They had been battling financial difficulties for years and realized they needed more than a one-time "Save Our Theater Campaign." They did need immediate help, but if they were to continue, they also needed permanent support. So they halted ticket sales for their next show, explained their predicament to the community, and held their breath. Luckily, citizens, business leaders and Wayside's Board of Directors stepped up. The funds were raised and they got commitments for ongoing permanent support from people who realized their value.
So we can all breathe a sigh of relief and life can go back to normal, right?
Well, I hope not. I want everyone to realize the jewel that we almost lost and to cherish it. If you've never seen a play at Wayside Theatre, buy a ticket. I promise the acting and directing are on par with, or better than what you'd see anywhere else. If you are a parent, take your kids. If you are broke, volunteer to usher and get to see the show for free.
For those of you who already realize what we've got, help ensure Wayside's future success by making a donation. Go to www.waysidetheatre.org and click on the donate button.
Once you've been bitten by the theater bug, you might want to get involved with one of the local community theaters. Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg, the Shultz Theatre in New Market, and the Winchester Little Theater are all looking for patrons, actors, back stage help, and more. The valley is awash with opportunities, so don't miss out. Maybe we can tread the boards together!
Jeanne Russell is a creative services professional who lives in Edinburg. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org