News/Thoughts

Theatre Gets New Life

In the beginning, there was the dream, and in the dream there was a theatre, and that dream was good. Yes, that is my pitiful attempt to set the tone for a story that has a Genesis and a Revelation; however, this is not a story with a beginning and an end but rather a story about an end that became a new beginning. What follows is the Phoenix-like story of the Wayne Theatre Ross Performing Arts Center in Waynesboro, VA that opens for public performances in March, 2016.
In AR Issue 12, September 2007, we told you a story that began like this, “I dare say there are not many among us who are of boomer age and older that can not remember a trip down town to the local theatre. Those days are long gone with rare exception. The local downtown theatre is for the most part a bygone icon. The ones that have survived demolition are boarded and decaying. Such it is in downtown Waynesboro, VA. The old Wayne Theatre showed its last film in 1999. After that showing, the owners (RC Theatres) turned the property over to the city to do with as they saw fit. Waynesboro’s leaders took the property but had no plans for its use. To their credit, the Waynesboro City Council created the Wayne Theatre Alliance and gave the group authority to oversee the revitalization of the Wayne Theater. The city turned over that ownership and responsibility to the Alliance in 2000.”
Greatness In Mind
Since that humble beginning, the Wayne Theatre Alliance has worked tirelessly toward creation of a state-of-the-art educational and theatrical facility. It has been an up-hill battle. There have been many obstacles to overcome not the least of which has been a sputtering economy that later would be called the Great Recession. The project faced a series of funding challenges—each seemingly more daunting than the one previous—since the nonprofit launched with the goal to restore and reopen the theatre. Many people thought it would never happen. The construction effort started and stopped at least three different times over the course of the effort. Not to minimize the efforts of 100s of un-named, dedicated, behind the scenes workers of every type; however, local real estate agent, Mr. Bill Hausrath, who serves as the chairman of the Wayne Theatre Alliance, and Dr. Clair Myers, who is the Alliance’s long-serving Executive Director, have been the public faces of the effort from the beginning and have worked tirelessly for its success. They have been the ones who have many times faced the naysayers and doubters that were constantly questioning the project.
Dr. Myers, serving as Executive Director of the Wayne Theatre Alliance, was the one tasked with raising funds to build the theatre and oversee the construction. Several months ago The Wayne Theatre Alliance’s Board of Directors issued special recognition of Dr. Clair Myers by naming him Executive Director Emeritus. Bill Hausrath, Chairman of the Alliance, was quoted in a recent theatre newsletter saying, “Dr. Myers has been the point person over the last 10 years in guiding the organization to this point. He has shaped decisions about how the Wayne was rebuilt and how it will operate in the future. It has sometimes been a challenge to keep the momentum but his unfailing professionalism and hard work have gotten us to the opening. We couldn’t have done it without him.” During Dr. Myers’ 10 year tenure as Executive Director, he was actively involved in the design and fund raising efforts. In the early days, he created The River City Radio Hour, which became an entertainment staple in the community and helped maintain public interest in the restoration project.
Keeping Momentum
Several years ago, when the outlook toward the future looked especially grim, Dr. Myers produced three seasons of weekly entertainment at a store-front location that was dubbed WTA’s Gateway. The variety of uses for the Gateway and the lessons learned there led to the redesign of the Wayne Project. Thus, the Wayne Theatre Ross Performing Arts Center now boosts not only a fully furnished intimate auditorium, but also a lecture hall, the Custin Cabaret, and a multifunction events room, the Lowdermilk Events Room. During this recognition ceremony Myers told those in attendance that he had been fortunate to have been involved in a project that called upon all of his past training and experience. He also admitted that the Ross Center is the capstone of his career and that he is grateful to have been a part of its creation. Myers will continue to work for the Alliance in the areas of development and grant writing, as well as hosting the River City Radio Hour, and leading other artistic developments.
A few days ago, the folks in charge of the Wayne Theatre Ross Performing Arts Center invited the media to drop by and get a sneak preview behind the scenes of this $10 million restoration effort. Ms. Tracy Straight, who is the new Executive Director of the Wayne Theatre Ross Performing Arts Center, and who will be handling programming and operations going forth, has been associated with the Wayne project for several years in various behind the scenes roles and recently assumed more of the duties for which Dr. Myers had been responsible. What a tour it turned out to be. While painters were still doing some last minute touch up on some window sills and workers were putting finishing touches on the 40-foot stage there is no doubt that barring a little broom work here and a dust cloth rub there, this show is ready to begin.
Grand Re-Opening
The main doors open to a well appointed auditorium where 385 seats face a deep 40-foot stage. “There is not a bad seat in the house and you feel like you’re right there practically on stage with the performers,” Straight stated. She was spot on with that statement. We tried several of the seats in various locations and there is truly a clear view from every corner of the room. Personally, I fell in love with the balcony seating and do believe this might be my hangout in the future. The room is open with no supporting pillars to block the view of the stage.
The new performance area features a hydraulic orchestra lift, fly loft, wings and state of the art lighting, sound, and projection equipment. There is an ample backstage area complete with well-done dressing rooms and lounge area for performers. This venue has all the technical support needed for top level productions as it contains a state-of-the-art technical booth arrangement that gives both the sound and light crews separate work areas to control the shows.
Less you think the wonderful main auditorium is all the new Wayne has to offer, let me tell you more. The Performing Arts Center includes an upstairs 60 seat cabaret and a separate lecture hall with room for 100 guests. The cabaret features a configurable arrangement that lends itself to many possibilities while the lecture hall is equipped with screen and projection facilities. On top of all this, there are tiny intimate gathering spots scattered throughout the facility (such as an historic stained glass room) that can be apportioned to many and varies gatherings and events.
The Ross Center will open with its first public performance by Robin and Linda Williams on March 4, 2016. The preview season will continue through August. The season’s schedule will include musical performances, a weekly classic film showing, and a science and history lecture series. Plus, the Shenandoah Jamboree, a very popular regional country music variety show that has enjoyed a long run in a now defunct venue in the lower Shenandoah Valley, has recently agreed to stage their very popular reoccurring show right here in River City on the stage of the Wayne.
A Long Time Coming
“It has been quite a roller coaster,” Straight said. “Sixteen years since the very first meeting.” She continued, “The opportunities here with this space are amazing. This is the community’s largest classroom. It’s a place where people can come together to be educated and enlightened, and enchanted, and enriched. My hope would be that everyone would take the step. and walk through the doors. I know they will engage in an experience that will make them want to come back again and again. Our goal is to offer a wide variety of genres and diversity in entertainment so there is something for everyone at an affordable price. We want the theatre to be a part of a bigger community and draw people to Waynesboro from throughout the state.
Bill Hausrath added “We woke up a lot of mornings wondering how we were going to get there, because there were a lot of obstacles. We’ve had a great group of volunteers, a tremendous group of steady supporters, financially, emotionally and attendance-wise. Now it’s time to turn on the lights and get the show started. It has been a long haul (but) we’ll be a new, quality center for the valley and certainly a showplace for Waynesboro.”
New Life
Every happy ending’s end signals an exciting new beginning’s begin—a great set of opportunities, and yes, a new set of challenges as well. The old Wayne Theatre is in good hands as it emerges as the Wayne Theatre Ross Performing Arts Center. It is surrounded with good vibes from the hometown folks and by every facet of the entertainment community as well. Performers are gearing up to ply their talents; promoters are preparing to showcase their stable of presentations; and we publishers and writers in the music business who have always cheered for more live music and performance venues all are eager to see the fruition of years of effort by many tired but happy true believers.
The Alliance’s website lists all events at the Ross Center and the opportunity to purchase reserved tickets. The inaugural season will begin in September, 2016 with a performance by a major national performer. Details will be made public later this summer.
If you want to learn about opportunities to become part of the ongoing effort to make Wayne Theatre Ross Performing Arts Center a jewel of the Shenandoah Valley, you can call 540-943-9999 or navigate your computer browser to waynetheatre.org.
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