On Sunday afternoon, more than 80 members, supporters and friends of Four County Players gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate to official start of construction for the theater’s “Build A Backstage” project. As Four County heads into its 47th season, the longstanding community theater has much to offer in the upcoming year in addition to the improved facilities.

The Build A Backstage project is the culmination of a campaign that the theater has been promoting for several years in order to raise the estimated $275,000 needed to build a 1,925-square-foot enclosed backstage area. Until now, actors and set crew have had to use the back deck or the cellar for construction projects; the new backstage will not only provide a safer and more comfortable environment for the actors, but also will allow building materials to be stored securely and away from the elements.

By March, most of the funds had been raised through a combination of grants and donations from individuals and organizations. The theater was able to raise its goal of an additional $15,000 during its production of “Hello, Dolly!” which in turn made their project eligible for a $30,000 grant from the Perry Foundation, completing the fundraising needed to begin building.

With the approval of the county, who owns the building, finalized last week, Four County is now able to begin work on the project, which is expected to be completed by early autumn. Kerry Moran is serving as architect and Kevin Gallihugh, a local builder, has been contracted to build the addition. Continued fundraising goals will focus on outfitting the backstage area with necessary equipment, such as a dust collector to trap the large quantities of sawdust creating during set building.

Carl Schwaner, head of the Build A Backstage committee, expressed his thanks for those whose support has made the project possible.

“We’re really happy with where we are right now and we’re grateful to the community,” he said. “The reality of the world is that you have to push hard for these things, but it’s just a matter of understanding the good this is going to do for the theater and the community, and our hope is that we’re going to have another 46 years in this theater.”

In addition the new facilities, Four County is celebrating a new season of shows and events. With the backstage construction leaving the mainstage unusable for part of the season, the theater is using the opportunity to bring back one of its most beloved traditions, Shakespeare at the Ruins. During weekends July 12-27, the theater will be putting on a one-time only production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Lydia Horan at Barboursville Vineyards.

Laurie Lowrance, co-chair of the programming committee, explained that the decision arose out of the desire to make the most of the challenge of programming around construction. “We knew that the time would come where we would begin construction and that the theater would need to be dark while that occurred, “she said. “Naturally we didn’t want to have to lose a show in our season, so we worked on some creative ideas for an offsite production while the backstage was being constructed. Shakespeare at the Ruins played a historical role at 4CP, and while we were thinking outside the box, the possibility was raised that we return for a special engagement. … We have a stellar cast and production team, a wonderful partnership with Barboursville Vineyards, and rehearsals are now underway for what is going to be an excellent production.”

In addition to the return of Shakespeare at the Ruins, theatergoers can look forward to a mix of classic favorites and creative contemporary works during this year’s programming. Programming committee co-chair Gary Warwick White explained that when putting a season together, the committee strives to select a variety of shows that will appeal to a wide audience.

“We work towards diversity, variety and balance with an eye toward our fellow theatrical communities,” he said. “We want to create an end product that appeals to actors, directors, designers and volunteers as well as audiences.”

One of the lesser known but more innovative offerings this season will be “The Savannah Sipping Society,” directed by Meg Hoover and running Oct. 11-17 in the cellar. The script is written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, a trio that is gaining a reputation for their eye toward adaptability to local theaters and for well-crafted female leads.

“Jones, Hope and Wooten have been dubbed ‘America’s Playwrights’ and craft their shows in support of local theaters throughout the country,” Hoover said. “They are noted for writing laugh-out-loud comedies with strong roles for women, and ‘The Savannah Sipping Society’ is no exception.”

For those who are feeling less adventurous, Four County also will be offering some well-known favorites throughout the season. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” directed by Edward Warwick White, will open on the mainstage as the theater’s first production with the completed backstage. “Mamma Mia!” will be directed by Perry Medlin and will bring its lively combination of singing, dancing and disco melodies to the mainstage May 15 to June 7.

For more information on Four County Players’ upcoming shows, visit www.fourcp.org. To donate toward the theater’s ongoing construction and improvements, contact board president Debbie Owens at debbie4cp@gmail.com or call (540) 825-5355.

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