50th anniversary of Encore Stage & Studio

The countdown is on for the 50th-anniversary celebration of Encore Stage and Studio, the Arlington-based youth-theater troupe whose productions and classes draw thousands of families each year.

Leaders of the nonprofit troupe used an April 22 fund-raising breakfast to outline initial planning for a half-century celebration that will start in September 2016 and last a year, “or maybe more,” board chairman Jerry Gidner said at the “Sunny Side Up” breakfast, held at Washington Golf & Country Club.

While none of the details has been finalized, the breadth of ideas is expansive: Events under consideration range from a gala and youth-themed Renaissance fair, to an alumni production, to a theater trip to Broadway or London.

There might even be a reprise of the youth troupe’s very first show – “A Pocketful of Preposterous Poems” – which took place in 1967 at Lubber Run Amphitheatre. (Only one problem to solve: Finding the script for that show so far has been an elusive effort.)

While there was a look ahead to the future, the April 22 event focused on the impact of Encore’s work on its youth participants, both on stage and behind the scenes.

“I’m involved because I’ve seen the kids that come, I’ve watched them change in spectacular ways,” said Ashby Rushing, a local teacher who serves on the Encore board. “They grow, they mature, they find their place.”

“Encore creates a comfortable, educational and judgment-free environment,” said Carla Astudillo, who has performed in three musicals over the past four years and plans on earning a degree in theater at the college level.

Astudillo credited Encore’s staff members and instructors as those who “light a fire and love” of performing for youth.

“They find what makes each student sparkle,” Astudillo said.

At the breakfast, Laury Sendek was presented with the Celeste Award for outstanding volunteerism.

“It’s a great organization, amazing people to work with; I’m pleased to be part of it,” said Sendek, who has shaped the design of the troupe’s publications in recent years.

The award is named in honor of Celeste Groves, who served as volunteer executive producer for more than 30 years.

“She set a really high standard for us to live up to,” said Sara Duke, Encore’s executive director.

Groves continues to volunteer, and at the breakfast spoke of the times collaborating with Sendek.

“I treasure the hours we spent at my kitchen table,” Groves said. “Her graphic artistry is professional, attractive and right on target.”

Encore leaders said their biggest current challenge is finding available space for an expanding roster of productions and camps. It took several years, Gidner said, to find a location for “Bard in a Box,” a new initiative aimed at giving students ages 9 to 14 more intensive training in Shakespeare.

Encore currently uses Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, a facility shared among various local troupes, for productions. It has drawn more than 8,700 patrons so far during the current season, making it the largest Arlington theater troupe without its own dedicated space.

“It’s time for Encore to have a home,” said Gidner, announcing that discussions are ongoing with Forest City, the owner of Ballston Common Mall, about carving out a space for the troupe during the upcoming rebuilding of the mall.

As the search goes forward, the effort continues to build skills – in both theater and life – for those who take part.

“Encore is very, very fun,” said Thomas Boudreau, who participated in the crew for several years and is set to go off to college. “It’s a very close-knit family. We get things done, but we have a lot of fun.”

Text: Scott McCaffrey, Staff Writer from Northern Virginia Media Services


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