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

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Actors perform at the North Street Playhouse in the small town of Onancock on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
Bryan Russo
Actors perform at the North Street Playhouse in the small town of Onancock on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Take a road trip to Virginia's Eastern Shore, and you'll find yourself in another world, a quiet rural corner of our region where farming is the way of life for many families.

But once you get to the small town of Onancock, you'll find something else — a thriving theater called the North Street Playhouse. It's the only regularly producing theater on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and was founded by artistic director Terry Bliss at her kitchen table more than 25 years ago.

"I came here initially with a job as an attorney with Legal Aid," says Bliss. But she soon got together a group of people interested in theater, and over the years, they've produced 139 different plays for local audiences.

"It built over the years," says Bliss. "We started out performing in a lot of different venues." Over the years, the North Street Playhouse has built a reputation for consistently high-quality theater productions.

"One of my goals always was for us to get to a point where people would come and see shows we produced even if they hadn't heard of them, because they knew they were going to get a good show. And I think that certainly we have reached that goal," she says.

Bliss says she tries to choose plays that will resonate with local audiences, and challenge them. The Playhouse's most recent production was Clybourne Park — Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning play dealing with race and class issues.

Theater-goer Betsy Pinder credits Bliss with the success of the Playhouse. "She really is the reason it's doing what it's doing. The people that come in and the shows that they bring in, it just really adds to Onancock," she says.

Bliss says her next goal is to attract a "group of people who are not used to going to the theater," such as young people who may have more experience with TV and video games than with theater.

"Somebody sent me a card on Facebook today that says, "3D has been around for thousands of years — it's called live theater," she says.


[Music: "Another Openin', Another Show" by Cole Porter from The Great Melodies/ "Fame" by Hot Fox Karaoke from Hot Fox Karaoke - Songs From the Musicals 1]

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