Dazzling New Season at Waynesboro’s Wayne Theatre

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Waynesboro's Wayne Theatre restored from original 1926 structure. Photo: Mark Miller.

A dazzling new season debuted at the Waynesboro’s Wayne Theatre in July, filled with plenty of visual energy and the voices of many cultures. It’s an ambitious program for the third season of a newly revived theatre in a small city, reaching way beyond the standard offerings you’d expect.

“We took a deep breath and took a few chances,” said theatre director Tracy Straight. After two very successful seasons, broad community support, and careful listening to what the wider Waynesboro area wanted, she and Hank Fitzgerald, who directs the Wayne’s original programming, believed they could present a schedule of both virtuoso performances that would challenge the audience; and live dramas that would challenge the growing pool of actors.

With a couple of seasons of live performances under his belt, Fitzgerald knew it was time. “We have people coming here from as far away as Richmond and Washington, D.C. to audition,” he said. To make sure there’s always new talent to cast from, he offers training to youth via workshops where they learn performance skills as well as every aspect of behind-the-scenes stagecraft. Fitzgerald is a veteran of regional live theater, and his knowledge of East Coast resources has given him the confidence to know that there will be capable contenders to show up for auditions for the demanding, darkly-comic “Sweeney Todd,” to debut at the Wayne in November; for the crowd-pleasing “Hairspray,” which opens in February; and for the sentimental “The Bridges of Madison County,” scheduled for May.

Wayne Theatre’s Tracy Straight and Hank Fitzgerald. Photo: Mark Miller.

Straight, a long-time educator with strong ties to the community, said the theater has served more than 14,000 students with its educational programs building on the universal themes presented by popular children’s stories as well as presenting some that are not so familiar. She said that many children coming to the Wayne have never been in a theater before. 

Education doesn’t stop with the programs specifically aimed at children. One of the theatre’s goals this year was to present a number of multicultural programs. “Sugar Skull,” scheduled for October, is a celebration of Mexican culture through a musical journey. “Alsarah and the Nubatones” will give audiences a glimpse of East African musical traditions, both ancient and modern. The Vienna Boys Choir makes an appearance in March. Lovers of gospel music, Cajun music, classical music, country music, jazz and Celtic music will be able to see some of the best examples of local and international performers. A couple of tribute bands honoring works of the Beatles and Carol King will provide a little nostalgia. Holiday films, live dance and two different Nutcracker productions are offered during the Christmas season.

Everywhere you look in the program, there’s an adventurous spirit. There will be a ventriloquist, spectacular shadow dancing, exuberant modern dance, a moving one-man production that imagines the last days of Nat Turner. Straight is not sharing the secret of how they’ll transform the Wayne stage into an ice skating rink for Peter Pan and Friends on Ice in March. And, if you’re weary of politicians of every kind, you can laugh at them all when the world-famous Capitol Steps appear on November 1.

There’s another side to the Wayne Theatre that has made it the beloved center of the everyday Waynesboro community. People with all kinds of interests and points of view come together there to be inspired and share ideas. The “Faith in Film” series shows films with religious and moral themes, followed by frank discussion. Popular local singer and film buff James Overton hosts “Mondays at the Movies” at 2 and 7 p.m., showing a wide range of classic films suggested by the audience and including comments and ideas from film fans. “On Screen, In Person” highlights new, independent filmmakers touring with their films and engaging with the community in various ways. 

Wayne Theatre Ambassadors. Photo: Mark Miller.

Talks on history, health and science make up the “Signature Speaker Series” with local speakers presenting on local topics, always with a question and answer session. These community-generated events are all “pay what you will.”

Several times a year, the Wayne puts on a showcase of much-loved, familiar local talent, always with a few surprises. The Boogie Kings, the Wayne’s house band, is on stage for these performances.

There’s art in the Wayne’s graceful galleries, and a fleet of volunteer ambassadors that do everything from greeting you at your car to ushering you to your seat. “We couldn’t do any of this without them,” Straight said.

For the full program description, dates and times, see waynetheatre.org. 

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