When we moved to the mountains, I wondered what we would do for entertainment and intellectual stimulation, beyond reading all the books we have accumulated. We kept our season tickets to Arena Stage, in Washington D. C. and planned to attend our other favorite live stage venues, The Shakespeare Theatre, Studio Theatre, and Signature Theatre as needed. We knew that we could get into D. C. for a museum fix. We never dreamed we would have too many options on any weekend out here. We do get into to the Washington area about about 4 to 6 weeks to enjoy the attraction and visit with folks. We may have only half a dozen things to do out here at any day we want, rather than sixty things, but we can still only do one thing at a time.
We discovered that Staunton has as excellent replica of the Blackfriar Theatre in London and the outstanding American Shakespeare Theatre company. JMU in Harrisonburg has just opened a performing arts center. We have still to get to the Wayside Theatre near Winchester, or the American Contemporary Theatre Festival in Shepardstown. So many options.
Even closer is the McCoy Grand Theatre in Moorefield, WV. This is a 1920 era theatre which featured vaudeville acts, movies, and concerts. It’s not quite the Lincoln Theatre in D.C. or the Paramount in Seattle, but it has a tin ceiling, decorative light fixtures (four of the six still have the globes), and a sense of grandeur for a small town. The added-on air duct system suspended from the ceiling, and light bars hanging from the walls detract from the original design, but say more about our expectations for comfort and special effects than to the architects plans.
The Mccoy Grand hosts a number of events each year. During Heritage Weekend, the annual fiddle and banjo contest occurs here. Some gospel events are performed here. And, several times per year locally produced stage productions occur. These developed from a perceived need by several community members for a local performance group. None of the schools (Moorefield, East Hardy, Petersburg) have performing arts programs. Several teachers and interested business people began working with interested students to stage productions. This gives the students who are interested in the arts opportunities to be on stage and back stage. They even provide an annual college scholarship to a student who plans to study performing arts (theatre, music, dance) after high school graduation.
We attended the most recent play, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, on Saturday. A cast of 29 filled the village that Mark Twain created for the boys Tom and Huck. Twenty nine cast members, pretty good for a county with 13,000 residents. Some blocks in major cities probably contain more people. What was impressive was the number of children in the cast, with just enough adults to give a sense that this was a children’s perspective of village life in the 1840’s, not Lord of the Flies. The children came in all sizes and talents. Hunter Ayers (Tom Sawyer) ran away with the play, being a natural bean pole kid having a good time and getting in trouble whether he did something wrong or not. James Alt (Huck Fin) did not bother running behind Tom, but ambles his way in and out of the play with equal ease on the stage. The two girls vying to be “engaged” to Tom, Allison Barr (Amy Lawrence) and Lauren Gresham (Becky Thatcher) did a good job catching Tom’s eye and whirling him around a few times. Ah, that children could be so innocent.
The story, adapted from Mark Twain’s novel, contains scenes from the basic story of Tom Sawyer: fighting in the neighborhood and at the dinner table, painting the fence, scheming his way in Sunday School to win the Bible verse contest, meeting Huck Finn in the graveyard, running away, and finding Injun Joe’s treasure. Every time I visit Emily’s home in Rhode Island I see a copy of Tom Sawyer on the shelf. One of these days I will read it. Hey, I only read Peter Pan last year, thanks to my sister-in-law’s pity on my lack of childhood references.
This same sister-in-law, artistic director for the Rainbow Company in Las Vegas, would have been wildly writing notes for the cast and crew. She & I would probably have redesigned the set, worked on the set changes, and got the show down to a hour and 15 min. running time. But, we are audience members here and not in charge.
The most delightful moment of the show was as the applause ended, the children streamed off the stage, not back stage, to greet parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, brothers and sisters, and teachers in the audience. We were probably the only members of the audience without a direct connection to someone on stage. Ah, Wilderness.