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Theater aims to engage community

Selah Theatre Project student Sarah Millard, 13, of Front Royal, performs a monologue from the play "It's Not Easy Being a Teen," which the teen students wrote. Millard worked with theater owner La Tasha Do'zia-Earley for almost a year, and will continue to do so now that the theater has a permanent home in Front Royal. Jeb Inge/Daily

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By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL -- La Tasha Do'zia-Earley is the sole owner of the Selah Theatre Project. But she said, really, the community owns it together.

Do'zia-Earley has been teaching theater classes in the area for several years, but was pulled into Front Royal due to the strong base of students and parents she found there.

She began renting the 30 East 8th St. location in February, she said, after teaching her classes in various locations. Already with a strong following of students, she plans to start the theater's first official season in September.

"I have been overwhelmed with how much appreciation I've received," Do'zia-Earley said.

Most of the nerves involved with starting the theater, she said, were dissolved with the support from the community.

The business operates as a nonprofit under the umbrella of a larger dramatic nonprofit company.

Now, with the start of the official season, Do'zia-Earley plans to continue the classes she teaches for children and teenagers, while also creating a community theater.

Do'zia-Earley graduated from Shenandoah University and, though originally from Portsmouth, decided to stay in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

"Why would I go somewhere where there are already a lot of arts and competition?" she said. "I wanted to teach and share my passion with young kids, so I stayed here."

Sarah Millard, 13, of Front Royal, is one of Do'zia-Earley's students. Sarah worked with her before Do'zia-Earley was able to get an actual location for the Selah Theatre Project.

"I used to work with Wayside," Millard said. "They were really rigid. But here it's about the experience. It's about the process, not the product."

The classes are offered for various age groups, ranging in price between $35 a month for younger students to $55 a month for teenagers who want to take the advanced class. Students take one class a week.

Do'zia-Earley is also starting a class in September for students with autism, called ACT One. She said she wanted to allow for a social environment for those children.

Students in Do'zia-Earley's classes are taught to work independently, as well. This summer her teen students wrote a play called "It's Not Easy Being a Teen." It included some intense themes, including peer pressure and suicide, she said, and was written almost entirely by the students.

"I want them to know that this is a safe space where they can deal with their problems," Do'zia-Earley said. "This is about expression, and what happens here stays here -- especially for teenagers."

The second night of the show, Do'zia-Earley said, the play was sold out.

Do'zia-Earley is anticipating more enrollment in classes, as well as involvement from the community. Right now she has 24 students, and hopes to eventually have 40.

The classes are open to all students of varying ages, she said, and she hopes more adult actors will also become involved in the community theater, rather than traveling to other theaters away from Warren County.

"I focus on the process," Do'zia-Earley said. "It's about bringing out the authentic side of you, so I use different types of training, processes and techniques, as opposed to just throwing you on stage."

"We create wonderful work," she added.

To learn more about the theater, visit http://www.selahtheatreproject.org.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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