Newcomers to the Shenandoah Valley are often surprised at how many performance theaters can be found here and how professional their performances are. The Wayne Theatre in Waynesboro is a perfect example, offering a busy calendar of plays, films, dance, and concerts, plus educational workshops, a changing art exhibit, and more. We asked Tracy Straight, the Wayne’s Executive Director, to tell us about running big-time performances in a fast-growing Valley town.
SVTA: What is the single most important thing you want tourists to know about the Wayne?
Straight: We are competitive with big city productions, and tourists don’t want to miss a stop at The Wayne Theatre in our little town to find out.
SVTA: Tell us a bit about how you came to be in the theater business.
Straight: I have a passion for wanting to create a cultural, enriching experience for others of all ages that makes them want to engage more in the arts. My first career was as a music educator, and while teaching I went back to school for my masters in administration and supervision. I am a founder and volunteered many years for The Wayne Theatre project. I had the opportunity to begin conferencing and researching before the theatre opened to learn all about the business and have the privilege of being the Executive Director today.
SVTA: When getting the Wayne started, what made you feel Waynesboro was a good spot for such a business?
Straight: The Wayne Theatre was built in 1926 as a vaudeville house, and then presented film. It has been an honor to preserve what we could historically, yet have new infrastructure to operate as performing arts center.
SVTA: How has the local community responded to the theater?
Straight: The city watched the struggles of getting the theatre open as we started and stopped construction three times, and now they are thrilled we are open. We have only received five-star ratings since we opened. This project was started by members of the community, supported by its community and now is in a sense being given back to the community as a gift. We are a nonprofit theatre and the community’slargest classroom.
SVTA: What performances coming up this fall and winter are you particularly excited about?
Straight: We will have our first professional dance company with BalletX, and our in- house production of My Fair Lady will run for two weeks. We’ll have Tribute bands of Tom Petty and another one of Heart, which includes two of their original members. Plus we are the only venue in Virginia to host On Screen/In-Person events. These are documentaries where the filmmaker can be on hand (“in-person”) to discuss the film with the audience and answer questions about it. In this series, every Monday we present Classic Films, Signature Speaker Series in Science, Health and History, Annie Moses Christmas Show and A Carpenter’s Christmas to name a few.
SVTA: How do you decide what productions to put on?
Straight: I go to a couple conferences a year that present showcases and meet with agents to find out what artists they will have touring through the east at different times of the year. Showcases are key and if an artist/group doesn’t connect well with the audience (and my team does have a critical eye), then they probably are not going to be asked to perform at The Wayne. Building relationships with agents and production companies also plays an integral role. We are still new and discovering what this area has an audience for. We have not discarded any genre at this point. We see new faces each and every time the doors open for an event.
SVTA: Anything you want to say about the physical setup of the theater?
Straight: We are an intimate theatre and there is not a bad seat in the house for viewing or comfort. We have 389 seats and the acoustics are phenomenal! We have a hydraulic orchestra pit, two star dressing rooms, showers, green room, five spaces for rental opportunities, a black box for even more intimate theatre, and an acoustic music and jazz club. Parking is plentiful.
SVTA: Tell us a little about your Exhibit Gallery.
Straight: We have a beautiful room that had a lot of empty wall space. I have a staff member that used to be director of an art museum, and she is an artist herself. Her wide range of experience with curating art shows seemed to be the perfect fit to allow her to take on this opportunity and create an added feature to our facility. We have local, regional and national works of art and we are trying to build an audience for the Exhibit Gallery program. The exhibits change every three months and from September until the beginning of December, we will feature all Montana artists with the show “Where the Mountains Meet the Sky.”
SVTA: Tell us a bit about the educational workshops you hold.
Straight: Our Arts Education program offers something for all grade levels and connects with the Virginia SOLs. They include theatre productions, and this year we have a showing of marionettes. We also have our Spotlight Stage program that will produce Anne of Green Gables in the spring. During the summer we offer camps in music theatre, dance, make-up and theatre production.
SVTA: Do you have any sense of how much of your audience is local and how much is tourist?
Straight: We have had patrons from 31 different states, a variety of countries, and 51% of our patrons have been tourists.
SVTA: Has the Wayne earned any sort of awards or special recognition?
Straight: We were 2nd for the Best Live Music Venue for Valley Favorites, and for Virginia’s Best in the Virginia Living Magazine we were voted 3rd for the Best Special Event Venue for the Shenandoah Valley.
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