Small Town Brings Big City Theater To Virginia's Eastern Shore (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Small Town Brings Big City Theater To Virginia's Eastern Shore

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Our next story today takes us to the eastern shore of Virginia. It's a quite, agricultural corner of our region, but one of its small towns is getting a reputation for something other than farming. Namely, high quality theater. Coastal reporter Bryan Russo takes us to Onancock, Va. to check out the latest production at its theater, the North Street Playhouse.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

00:00:24
The drive from Ocean City to Onancock mostly takes you past farmland. In the summer and fall, you'll see lots of roadside stands with locals selling the bounty of that farmland. But then, once you get to Onancock, you'll find this.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

00:00:59
That's a scene from the regional premiere of Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Clybourne Park," which was recently on stage at the North Street Playhouse in Onancock. It tackles some very heavy subjects, like race, real estate, and people's often volatile values. New York Times called this play darkly humorous, and it is wickedly funny. Here's a scene where the characters try to be politically correct, all while stumbling around their main point, which is, they're uncomfortable with the idea of having a housing project near their neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:01:29
If you're placed in some faceless institutional….

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

00:01:31
The projects...

#1

00:01:34
I mean, you know, like it or not, that kind of environment is not conducive to – formation of community.

#2

00:01:40
It's horrible.

#1

00:01:42
Well, the effect on children?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:01:43
Or anyone.

RUSSO

00:01:44
The North Street Playhouse is the only regularly producing theater on Virginia's eastern shore, and over the past quarter century, it's staged 139 different plays for local audiences. Betsy Pinder has been coming to the North Street Playhouse for years, and she says artistic director Terry Bliss is the reason for the theater's success.

MS. BETSY PINDER

00:02:03
Terry Bliss, you know, was from – her family was part of the Barter Theater. And so she really is the reason this is doing what it's doing. And it's been here for almost 25 of 30 years, in tiny, tiny, and now bigger and bigger, and now it's here, and it's just remarkable.

RUSSO

00:02:22
Yeah. Could you imagine Onancock without this theater being a part of it?

PINDER

00:02:27
Not really, because it really brings in an artistic – the people that come in and shows that they bring in, and it just really, really adds to Onancock.

RUSSO

00:02:37
Terry Bliss basically founded this theater at her kitchen table. She says what the Playhouse has become has surpassed even her wildest hopes and dreams.

MS. TERRY BLISS

00:02:46
I came here initially with a job as an attorney at Legal Aid. And landed in Onancock, and I can remember one of the first times driving down the main street, and passed the Hopkins House, which is farther down, near the water, and thinking, that will be the summer residence for the stock company, when we do that. So it's always been something that's been in my heart and in my mind.

MS. TERRY BLISS

00:03:12
When I had the opportunity to get some people together, and it was around the kitchen table. It built over the years. We started out going in a lot of different -- performing in a lot of different venues, and our first quote, unquote, "permanent" home was 4 North Street, around the corner, which was the total building was about 1,300 square feet. And this building, we bought this building in 1999, and it is just under 9,000 square feet. So the size of the stage here, or the audience, is the entire size of the stage and the audience at 4 North Street.

MS. TERRY BLISS

00:03:55
One of my goals always was for us to get to a point where people would come and see shows that we produced, even if they hadn't heard of them, because they knew that they were going to get a good show. And I think that certainly we have reached that goal. One of the joys for me is always seeing a cast come together as a group and bond and come to depend on one another, so have we reached the goals? Have we, probably we have exceeded what I initially thought.

MS. TERRY BLISS

00:04:25
I do remember thinking some years ago, it'll be -- there were a few things going on arts- wise and theater-wise, and I thought -- it was '95 -- and I thought, I'm gonna be interested to see who's still around in ten years. And here we are. And we are the ones who are still around. So yeah, it is all a work of joy, and a work from the heart.

SHEIR

00:04:54
That was Terry Bliss of the North Street Playhouse, talking with WAMU's Bryan Russo.
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