Welcome to the third day of our Spring Fund Drive, Celebrating Virginia Theater, as we continue to bring you illuminating facts, suitable for use at cocktail parties & potlucks, about the nearly 350-year tradition of Theater in Virginia.

Did you know that in 1752 a professional troupe from England, Lewis Hallam’s Company of Comedians, performed The Merchant of Venice in Williamsburg, Virginia? They became the most successful colonial theater company of their time, based in Williamsburg and traveling a circuit that extended from New York to Charleston and even to the West Indies.

It is Thanks to YOU, our loyal supporters, that the Hamner Theater is alive and flourishing in Nelson County. We are your theater! But this theater doesn’t come for free, or even for the low $10 ticket price. We can continue to bring theater to you only through your continued generosity. Any amount you can give will help us to bring you more theater, more music, more adventure. No donation is too small…

Our Goal for this Spring Fund Drive is $20,000.
We are the grateful recipients of two $5000 donations. These donations came with a challenge – we need to raise double the amount, or 20,000. To put this in perspective, $20,000 is 20 donations of $1000.
$1000 = new desktop computer for our Box Office(OR a pair of Manolo Blahnik Alligator Sandals)
Thanks To All Who Have Already Given!
Please accept our heartfelt thanks and know that it is only because of YOU that we are able to continue bringing you:

Great plays and playwrights, new and old.

Next in our series of free Staged Readings, the Virginia Playwrights & Screenwriters Initiative, VPSI, presents The Jefferson Jewel Murder by Bob Crawford on Sunday, May 22nd. This play was commissioned by the Wayne Theatre Alliance’s River City Radio Hour – see it first at the Hamner!

Community outreach programs: including projects with Nelson County High School drama students.

Four performances from May 19 – 22, Nelson County High School students take an improvisational look at Heart’s Desire, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Peter Coy.

How you can help to make our Spring Fund Drive, Celebrating Virginia Theater a success by giving to the Hamner Theater.
Remember, if we were to survive on ticket price alone, we’d need to charge $133 per ticket to make our basic budget. But we are committed to keeping our ticket prices at $10, so that everyone can come. Theater is a vital part of any community and we hope when you think ‘theater’ you think Hamner!

Three easy ways to donate today:

  • Call 434.361.1999, or, use our contact form to make a pledge.
  • Download a donation form, and mail it to us at Hamner Theater, P.O. Box 106, Nellysford, Virginia 22958.
  • Donate via PayPal (no PayPal account required).
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Please support the arts in your community by making a donation today – the Hamner Theater needs YOU.

The Hamner Theater is a non-profit 501(c)(3) project of the Rockfish Valley Community Center in Nelson County, VA. All donations to the Hamner Theater are tax-deductible.

Answers to Day 2 Questions:

Famous Virginians, part 2: Singers Pearl Bailey, Pat Benatar, Patsy Cline, Missy Elliott, Ella Fitzgerald, Wayne Newton, Kate Smith, Timbaland and Gary U.S. Bonds were all born in Virginia.

Bonus Question:
Like a Prius, the Hamner Theater is a hybrid.
The Hamner is not solely a professional or solely a community theater, but merges both roles. For example, The Homecoming and Nelson County Shakespeare Festival are community productions by the community for the community, whereas collaborations with other theaters allow us to use professional actors (as we did with Am I Black Enough Yet? and Poe & All That Jazz).

‘Community theatre is understood to contribute to the social capital of a community, insofar as it develops the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those who participate, whether as producers or audience-members.’(from Wikipedia)

Read on to find out interesting facts about Theater in Virginia.
Do you know why Virginia has been called the cradle of American theater (part 3)?

The first professional theater companies from England migrated to the colonies in search of new audiences in the mid-18th century; the London Company of Comedians arrived in Williamsburg in June, 1752. They opened with The Merchant of Venice on September 15th, having spent the summer gaining the Governor’s permission to play (as well as refitting the theater – it was not uncommon for troupes to have to build their own theater before performing!).

Religious considerations were not the only barrier: “Local merchants periodically opposed the licensing of theatrical seasons. They feared the actors would drain a large share of the local money supply and then skip town — not to mention exerting a bad influence on young apprentices who would be drawn to spend all their free time and money at the theater.”

Life as a performer was challenging – actors were nomads, traveling under often harsh conditions for an uncertain source of income: ‘Typically, performers received not wages but a portion of the profits, assuming there were any. Established members also got a “benefit night” where they took the house’s net profits, but this income was likewise undependable.’ Furthermore, the repertory system meant that a traveling troupe performed a different play almost every night. Shakespeare’s plays, including The Merchant of Venice, Richard III and Othello were extremely popular. Plays that the Company rehearsed prior to leaving England included The Fair Penitent, The Beaux’ Stratagem, Jane Shore, The Recruiting Officer, King Richard III, The Careless Husband, The Constant Couple, Hamlet, Othello, Theodosius, The Provoked Husband, Tamerlane, The Inconstant, Woman’s a Riddle, The Suspicious Husband, The Conscious Lovers, George Barnwell, The Committee, and The Twin Rivals. The afterpieces included Lethe, The Lying Valet, Miss in Her Teens, The Mock Doctor, The Devil to Pay, Hob in the Well, Damon and Phillida, and The Anatomist.

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson noted in their diaries frequent visits to the theater in Williamsburg. A newspaper in Nov. 1752 reported that “the Chief of the Cherokee nation and his family were entertained, at the theatre, with the play, (the tragedy of Othello) and a pantomime performance, which gave them great surprize, as did the fighting with naked swords on the stage, which occasioned the Empress to order some about her to go and prevent their killing one another.”

Theatrical activity came to a halt in 1774, when the Continental Congress passed a resolution strongly discouraging ‘activities deemed too frivolous (or perhaps, too British) on the eve of revolution, including theater’: “will discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock-fighting, exhibitions of shews, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”

Patriots observed the ban while British occupying forces ignored it, turning the theater into a vehicle of Loyalist propaganda.

The New York Mercury of 6 February 1775 contained the following item:
On Thursday last embarked in the ship Sally, Capt. Bruce, for Jamaica, the American* Company of Comedians (*Note, change of name notwithstanding, company members were still nearly all English.), where they intend exerting their justly applauded talents for the entertainment of the ladies and gentlemen of that polite and opulent island, until the unhappy differences that subsist between the mother country and her colonies in America subside.

“Essentially, the American stage went dark for the duration of the war.”

Famous Virginians, part 3: How many presidents born in Virgina can you name?

Bonus Question:
What does the Hamner Theater have in common with Gwendolyn Fairfax?

Tune in tomorrow for more interesting information you can use to impress your friends…and for the answers to today’s questions.
Please support the arts in your community by making a donation today – the Hamner Theater needs YOU.

If you know someone who might need help with cocktail conversation material, please forward this email to them. Thanks again.

Thanks to Arthur Hornblow, Jason Shaffer, Lisa E Fischer, Odai Johnson, William J. Burling, James A. Coombs, John W. Molnar and Jane F. Hanson and the UVA website for the information & quotes.