Beginning with Godot: The Adventures of a New Community Theater

Elizabeth Stinnette

OnStage Guest Columnist

Part 1: An Experiment in Theater

A literature major, a government major, a journalism major, and a history major decided to start a theater company. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. It’s actually my story.

Right now, I (the journalism major) hope it will have a happy ending.

Community theaters have always struggled for relevance and funds. For every Hamilton-sized success story, hundreds of local theaters fold due to a lack of interest, staff burnout, or empty bank accounts. A 2014 Wall Street Journal article compared starting a theater to starting a small business. Both take massive amounts of enthusiasm, a healthy streak of entrepreneurial skill, and a dash of good fortune. 

So why go through the struggle in the first place?

For me at least, it’s because impacting my community’s theater scene is as or even more significant than making a splash in a prestigious professional theater. When I recently researched the beginnings of every star with a named role on Broadway’s Les Misérables, more than half had started out in a local theater

Whether a community theater actor gets on Broadway or not, theater still gives that person a chance to practice public speaking, work in the arts, and share stories that inspire the human soul. At least in my book, those opportunities matter whether you live in New York City or Loudoun County, Virginia.

If you’re going to start a community theater anywhere, Loudoun County is a good place. While the population works in Washington, D.C., it turns to Loudoun to spend time with family and enjoy the arts. Several all-musical community theaters have already succeeded. We hope to stand out by performing only traditional plays—classics and new plays without a musical score.

My part in this theater adventure began with two of my college friends, Timothy and Keaghan Wier. 

Timothy and Keaghan got married because of theater. To be specific, they started dating after the three of us produced an original play I wrote, and we teamed up again for a college production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Timothy is the businessman. He delights in creating rehearsal schedules, getting donors on board, and generally making it so the director, in his words, “only has to worry about directing.” He’s also a coffee-making king—a necessity for any theater company. Keaghan, on the other hand, is the artist. She started directing plays in high school, and she has an actor’s knack for visually engaging blocking. She also has a talent for quoting Mean Girls at apropos moments.

I assumed that my college plays with Keaghan and Timothy would be the end of my theatrical career. I had graduated from college, at any rate, and barring a sudden literary break, was headed toward a non-artistic job.

An unexpected Facebook message changed all that. “We’re starting a nonprofit theater company,” Timothy and Keaghan wrote. Did I want to get involved?

It took me all of five seconds to say yes. 

A few days before Christmas, I headed into a local coffee shop for our first board meeting. Keaghan balanced her computer and a bowl of oatmeal on the table, and Timothy was already set up with his meeting agenda. Another college friend, who is spectacular at building sets and stage managing, joined our team later.

After a community poll of friends and theater lovers, we decided to make our first play Waiting for Godot. It’s a classic. It doesn’t take many actors. Most importantly, it’s cheap.

Finally, we decided to call ourselves Geronimo Production Company—partly because of a shared obsession with Doctor Who, and partly out of a realization that we are all jumping into a huge risk.

This, then, is our experiment. Can four college graduates start a community theater in an arts-loving, well-educated, over-worked small town? Can we get local audiences interested in a play known for its absurdity? Do we have the creativity, business acumen, and good fortune to succeed?

You know as much as I do. Over the next few months, I’ll share how we drum up community support, how we get funding, and all about rehearsals and the drama of tech week. And if we fail, I’ll tell you about that, too.

Like Godot’s Vladimir and Estragon, though, I have hope that success will come. I may not be particularly objective, but I believe that if any team of scrappy college kids can start a new theater company, ours can.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Photo: University of York