By Barbara Parker
In the past, the Martinsville-Henry County area has had a rich tradition of community theater. In the 1940s and 1950s and again in the 1970s and 1980s, local actors, musicians and theater lovers supported regular performances of a wide variety of theater experiences, everything from musical reviews to serious drama to a locally written musical about the building of Philpott Dam. Unfortunately, a lack of consistent leadership and interest led to the demise of those efforts.
In 2000, Patrick Henry Community College and Piedmont Arts began working to revive community theater in the area, leading to performances in 2001, 2002, and 2003 that included two musical reviews and a performance of Little Mary Sunshine that played to appreciative and large audiences at the Walker Fine Arts Center. These efforts confirmed that the area was receptive to reviving and supporting good community theater.
TheatreWorks was established by members of the community with an interest in the performing arts. In the summer of 2005, the group presented the quirky musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” followed by a summer musical each of the following four years, including “Children of Eden” in 2006; “Peter Pan” in 2007; “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in 2008; and “Beehive, the 60’s Musical” in 2009.
Thanks to a grant from the Harvest Foundation and determination to succeed, the group incorporated as TheatreWorks Community Players (TWCP) and created a 110-seat black box theater in the former Townes Furniture building owned by Dr. Mervyn and Virginia King at 44 Franklin St. in Uptown Martinsville. The venue opened in 2010 with sold-out performances of the hilarious comedy “Greater Tuna” and has been going strong ever since.
This year, the Kings donated the building to the organization.
In 15 years, TWCP has grown from one musical a year in a borrowed venue to multiple productions each year in a permanent theater home. Most importantly, it has become a catalyst for uptown revitalization, producing more than 50 mainstage productions in addition to piano bar nights, improv performances and readers theater.
Community support and involvement makes the difference. The goals are to present the highest quality entertainment; offer creative outlets for all ages; and to have a positive economic impact on Uptown Martinsville and the entire area.
Members of the TheatreWorks board are Gracie Agnew, Robin Campbell, Richard Dorr, Brad Draper, Rhonda Edwards, Don Grayson, Jo Grayson, Scott Guebert, Rhonda Hopkins, Helen Howell, Clif Jones, Susan Nelson, Patrice Newnam, Ann Nichols, Barbara Parker, Kathy Whitley and Cari Zimmer.
(Barbara Parker is a board member of TheatreWorks Community Players.)