A performing arts legacy
FRONT ROYAL — For 22 years, Virginia C. “Ginna” Looney taught math for at Warren County High School, but her legacy to area music and theater students is just as strong.
In tribute to Looney, who died last year after relocating to Tennessee in 1989, area teachers, students, alumni and professional musicians plan to raise the curtain on her life’s work to help it play on for many years to come in the community she loved.
The musical tribute “Curtains Up!” will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Warren County Middle School, which was the county high school while Looney taught there. The evening will spotlight a dedication of the school stage in Looney’s name.
Friday’s tribute will feature performances by middle and high school choirs, graduates, music teachers, professionals and the Front Royal Oratorio Society. The evening will be a smorgasbord of talent performing well-known show tunes, said middle school band director Pam Dyke.
“It’s a feel-good event,” she said. “Everyone [will be] here because they love the arts.”
Planning to attend the tribute with his family, Brian Looney of Manhattan Beach, California, called the stage dedication “an extreme honor” for his mother and the many years she taught with Warren County Public Schools.
“The honor of seeing that auditorium and stage being named after her is unbelievably touching,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview from Elizabethton, Tennessee.
While teaching in Front Royal, Looney was creative director of the Front Royal Little Theatre and directed several big productions including “The Sound of Music” and “Mame.”
She was also a charter board member of the Blue Ridge Arts Council, where Executive Director Kym Crump recalled that Looney inspired greater interest in community theater.
Dyke remembered too: “She exuded life like you wouldn’t believe.”
The same was true of high school theater.
“People wanted to be in it,” Dyke said. “It was the athletes; it was the cheerleaders. It was cool to be in [theater].”
The relationship of public schools and their theater departments has changed over the years, and some schools have lost the sort of drama departments they boasted in the past, but Brian Looney said even in the 1970s and ’80s his mother struggled with some of the challenges schools do today.
She succeeded in performing large productions of “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Anything Goes” and “The Sound of Music” at the school, but in other years offset dwindling funding by producing musical reviews — including a show of Walt Disney favorites.
“[It] centered around a father and his son sharing a love of Disney music, and you know it was just a musical review that she wrote,” her son recalled.
Sometimes she directed or co-directed shows, he said, “[But] she was also, more than anything, a producer in the sense of getting people together to do this [or that] and in finding people with a talent that could perform some aspect of a production.”
“That was where her real talent lied, in not taking no for an answer and in pushing to get people to help out,” he said. ” … It’s one of, I think, the biggest things that she was able to do.”
Every spring, she produced a dramatic or musical production, and each fall she led her theater students in a one-act play that often carried them to regional or state Virginia High School League competitions.
After moving to Tennessee, his mother taught another 10 years at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, but her son said he could tell it wasn’t the same.
“You know, she loved it there [in Front Royal],” he said. “She loved teaching at that school and ‘loved’ is ‘most of the time,'” he added, laughing.
“She always looked back fondly and she definitely was never able to recapture that same spirit that I think she had when she was there,” he said.
He recalled on Tuesday how Dyke found him on Facebook last fall and suggested the tribute.
“We’re just quite blown away,” he said. ” … That all these years later someone would remember [Ginna Looney] is truly just remarkable.”
“It’s hard to put into words, but it’s just an amazing thing.”
“Curtains Up!” will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Warren County Middle School, 240 Luray Ave., Front Royal. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students age 2 to 18 and are available at https://www.ticketriver.com/event/15482 or at the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, Front Royal Visitor’s Center and Blue Ridge Arts Council, 305 E. Main St. For more information, call 540-635-9909.
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org