Magic Behind the Scenes

February 13, 2011

Bulletin Staff Writer

Lauren Prince heads a local community theater group, but don’t look for her on stage.She may be selling tickets or refreshments at a performance, but she will not be singing or dancing. 

“I’m not a performer — not even close,” Prince said. But behind the scenes, Prince is busier than ever as the president of the board of TheatreWorks Community Players.  

Established in 2004, TheatreWorks is an organization of amateur actors and supporters who enjoy performing and also believe the performing arts can boost the area’s economic and cultural development. 

Prince, who has been involved with the organization from its start, said studies have shown that community theaters can have a positive impact on downtown revitalization efforts. 

They also help attract people to an area.  “I know that from recruiting physicians,” said Prince, whose husband, Dan, is a physician with Carilion in Martinsville. “We want to be able to provide a lot of things people get in other places. We are in competition” with those places for newcomers. 

In addition, “people just like to go to plays,” Prince said. “It is incredible to me the volume of high quality local talent we have. This is a way to showcase it for all to enjoy.” 

At first, she said, TheatreWorks did one production a year, but its members believed it could be more of a community player. 

To do that, members decided they needed a theater. TheatreWorks had done performances at Martinsville High School and Patrick Henry Community College, but “we thought if we had our own facility we could do more things. A lot of plays are better in smaller environments,” Prince said. 

A year ago, TheatreWorks unveiled its black box theater in the former Kappa House building on Franklin Street. The 100- to 115-seat venue has a moveable stage that can be arranged to best suit the production, whether it is a musical revue or “A Christmas Carol.” 

But that doesn’t mean it is the right venue for all shows. “You couldn’t do ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the black box,” Prince said, so productions will be held at other auditoriums as needed. 

Last year, TheatreWorks had four productions; this year it will stage six. A committee reads and discusses various plays and recommends ones it thinks the community would enjoy, Prince said. Ultimately, TheatreWorks’ 18-member board decides which productions will be staged. 

The group does a musical each year and has added drama and comedy as well. It tries to have a family-friendly production each year, and will introduce a Readers Theatre this year in which actors will read from scripts and the audience will give them a thumbs up or down. 

“It’s a tool to help show what people will come to see,” said Prince, who added that her favorite production was last summer’s Broadway Revue. 

Prince said the “sky is the limit” on what the group can do. It plans to do more fund-raising, build its volunteer base and add performances, she said. It also is planning summer workshops for children. 

“There is potential for it to grow into a really big thing where the whole family is involved,” she added. 

Most of those involved in TheatreWorks’ performances are volunteers, but some are paid. Prince said the director and those handling the sets, lighting, costumes and other aspects are paid small amounts. 

“We like it when they donate that back to us,” she said with a laugh. 

Prince has enjoyed working with others at TheatreWorks, from the actors and actresses to technical people and others. 

“It’s great fun to be part of something that is so popular. It makes the work very worthwhile,” she said. 

As TheatreWorks’ productions have grown, so has its board’s structure. “We went from a loosely structured board when we were doing one (production) a year. Now we have a full season and a facility, and we had to put in a lot of board structure” with policies and procedures, Prince said. “We’ve had a full plate.” 

The board oversees three main areas, she said: Production, which involves selecting plays, deciding how many performances will be held and filling production roles such as the director and lighting and sound staff; overseeing the black box theater, which is managed by one part-time employee; and fundraising. 

Prince, a former kindergarten teacher in Alabama and librarian at Carlisle School, admits she did not know much about the theater when she was asked to get involved in TheatreWorks. She said she agreed as a way to contribute to the community. Her three children were involved in the arts while growing up here — choir, dance, plays and so on — and through their involvement, she became supportive of the arts. 

Now, she has learned a lot about things such as lighting, sound, choreography — things the audience takes for granted during a performance. 

“We’ve been incredibly lucky. We’ve picked good shows, had good people, and even when it didn’t work as well as we hoped, we managed to come out OK. We’re not going to do everything right, but we have many more positives than negatives. At least we’re out there trying,” Prince said.


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