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Theater unveils renovations with play about recapturing youth

From left, Katherine Gray sings to Alan Wiecking, Alison Grace, Tyler Black and Lori Staley during a rehearsal of “What I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” at Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg. — Josette Keelor/Daily

Katherine Gray rehearses a scene from "What I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," at Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg, with Tyler Black, back left, and Lori Staley. — Josette Keelor/Daily

Rick Litten paints a picture of a car to be part of the set at Theatre Shenandoah. — Josette Keelor/Daily

Ann Heap, left, and Kerry Keihn rehearse a scene from "What I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," at Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg. — Josette Keelor/Daily

By Josette Keelor --jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Following over a year of renovations, Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg takes to the stage this month in a play suitable to its reincarnation.

"All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," a play adapted from the book by Robert Fulghum, seeks to remind audiences that growing up doesn't have to mean growing boring.

"Expect laughter and tears and good feelings," said Lori Staley of Woodstock, who will play various characters in the play that tells stories in the form of vignettes. "It's a very sweet, sweet show."

Theatre Shenandoah, which recently changed the spelling of its name to better accommodate Internet searchers who, director Richard Follett said, tend to spell "theater" as "theatre," kicks off its fall season with the first play at 107 Center St.

"We're a community theater group and we're very much about the community," Follett said. The building, which previously was a fire station and later a teen center, is complete enough to receive its occupancy permit but still is waiting on a handicap-accessible elevator, Follett said, and so far has raised only $700 of the needed $3,000 to make the alterations.

"We're welcoming all help and ideas," he said.

This summer the theater hosted a successful concert series and a cabaret review of "Fresh Start," but "Kindergarten" will be its first production in the renovated theater, "which is a really big deal," Follett said.

"We did have a play of 'Sylvia' last year, but that was in the Edinburg Heritage Center," he said.

Of "Kindergarten," he said, "It's a series of vignettes that are meant to point out the benefit of keeping the child inside us alive," Follett said.

At a recent evening rehearsal, actors gathered to help provide decorations for the play's set, sitting around several tables pushed together and painting pictures imagined by their inner 6-year-olds.

"We're all going to get to do a picture," Staley said.

An ensemble cast, the actors are all on equal footing throughout the show, during which time they portray several characters.

Katherine Gray, of Staunton, plays a teacher in the opening scene, explaining to the gathered audience how children tend to be so much more enthusiastic than adults are of promoting their talents and interests, ready to prove themselves capable of anything anyone asks of them. Adults, the cast demonstrates, would rather hide behind their fears than risk looking foolish in front of peers.

"I absolutely love it, and I also feel really, really connected with the play," said Gray, who first enjoyed the story when reading the book in middle school and then performing the play in high school. It wasn't until she reached adulthood, though, that the play took on new meaning for her.

About a year and a half ago, she said, her mother purchased Fulghum's book for Gray's sister who was diagnosed with colon cancer. Gray's sister recovered, but then their mother learned she too had cancer, and she died four months ago.

Gray, a math and science teacher, decided then that life is too short not to enjoy it while she could, and though she had not performed on stage since high school, she began searching online for area theaters. Finding Theatre Shenandoah in a Google search, she learned they were casting for "Kindergarten."

Gray's favorite story in the play is a monologue she gives that felt fitting to how her life has been in recent months.

"It's about a grave stone," she said. But she assured the play, in general, is upbeat.

"I love the storytelling of it," she said. "It makes me really happy."

Other performers will be Alison Grace, Ann Heap, Tyler Black, Autumn Heap, Kerry Keihn, Rick Litten and Alan Wicking.

The show, Gray said, shows how "You grow up and you have responsibilities and you lose your childhood outlook and you get jaded and cynical and life gets hard."

She also said it shows "how to keep your soul alive in the grownup world."

Follett said the theme of "Kindergarten" is in line with the theater's intentions.

"It's meant to be for the community, it's meant to be for families," he said. "We think of the community as a gift to the theater and the theater as a gift to the community."

"All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" will play at Theatre Shenandoah, at 107 Center St. in Edinburg, Oct. 13 and 14, 19, 20 and 21, at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Advance tickets are $10 or $8 for seniors and students; at the door tickets are $12 or $10 for seniors and students. For more information, call 984-3972 or visit theatreshenandoah.org.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com


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