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By Dominique McIndoe
Education, participation, and enlightenment — these are the three ingredients the award-winning Castaways Repertory Theatre have been using to successfully involve and engage the Woodbridge community for more than 40 years. In 1981, Shirley and Tom Attanaro, Ali Boylston, Dawn Willard, Zoya
Bishop, and Leslie Nebb joined forces to establish Castaways Repertory Theatre. With unique backgrounds in community theatre, these talented actors solidified their love for performing by creating a lasting legacy for thespians and theatre buffs alike.
Much like its name, Castaways “embodies the adventurous approach we take to theater,” says Lucas Berg, President of the theatre. “The actors who founded the Castaways had some creative differences with their existing theater troupe. They had a more inclusive vision for a theater company that offered more than one type of production. That legacy continues today with our unique combination of plays, musicals, and theatrical readings.”
Educating audiences and participants in shows, whether they are onstage performers or backstage crew, is an utmost priority for Castaways.
“Volunteers learn skills by helping out with set building, lights and sound, working front of house,” says Kathy Sahlberg, Secretary for the community theatre. “Most shows are more than just entertainment… The plays sometimes have themes that expose people to ideas they might not have thought about.”
Every year, at least four shows are slated for the season, and subject matters range from the classic dramas (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) to musicals (Seussical the Musical) to comedies (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and everything in between.
Castaways’ artistic director/play selection chair presents show suggestions given by the audience, and the members vote on a particular roster of shows for a season. With so much variety in show content, adults and children of all ages can easily find a show to enjoy or participate in.
Participation is also an integral part of this all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.
“We welcome people of all shapes and sizes and we’re not afraid to explore alternative casting,” says Berg. “We are a very inclusive theater company. We have never lost sight of the fact that this is a community theater company, and we want there to be room in our troupe for anyone in the community willing to be an active participant.”
The old and the young in the community are encouraged to help with age-appropriate activities. Castaways creates productions that have only children in them, adult-actors-only shows, and some with both adults and kids. Signing up for membership to Castaways is a requirement to perform, but there are three flexible and affordable options for actors to choose from.
“We really believe community theater should be accessible for everyone,” Berg assures. “To that end, we have worked very hard to keep dues low, and we believe our dues are currently among the lowest in the region. Additionally, we offer needs-based scholarships to cover membership dues for those who cannot
Participation from the community also fosters togetherness, unity, and teamwork among the members. The most remarkable part of Castaways after 40+ years, according to Sahlberg, is “the way the cast and crews work together to put on a good show. Most all the people who participate know we all have to work
together as a team.”
Berg’s sentiments are similar.
“Everyone contributes through their own strengths,” says Berg. “It is truly magical the friendships that are forged. But I think the most amazing part of Community Theater is getting to watch the participants — actors, directors, choreographers, stage technicians, front of house, and other production roles — come
together, and through their collective efforts deliver something special. The sense of self-efficacy that participants develop, that sense of ‘Wow — I can do this!’ is my favorite part.”
The Castaways Repertory Theatre acknowledges that it wouldn’t be where it is today without its outreach.
“We donate tickets to an organization that gives tickets to other nonprofits, so they can give their participants a theatrical experience,” says Sahlberg. Castaways will also be participating in the Prince William County Arts Council Arts Alive! 2022 festival on Sept. 12 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center to celebrate the diversity and excellence of visual, literary, and performing artists and ensembles from the Greater Prince William Area. “It is a great opportunity to see many of the organizations in Prince
The COVID-19 pandemic halted much of the Castaways operations like it did for many organizations.
“When we first cast Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2020, we had almost 30 actors in the show,” says Sahlberg. “Between people moving, fear of COVID, and people dropping out due to other commitments, we ended up with a cast of 10. Theater, like life, is never certain. Our long-time artistic director and the director of Cinderella, Zina Bleck, passed away before the show opened. Scott Olsen, one of the actors in the show, stepped up and took over directing the production. Scott and the cast put on a wonderful show that honored Zina’s memory.”
In spite of these challenges, uncertainties and rebuilding processes since 2020, Berg notes that, “We have reconstituted our Steering Committee and there is tremendous energy and optimism about the future. We are taking a fresh approach to our planning for the 2022-2023 season, and we have secured performance dates for three shows [for the latter half of 2022]… We’ve put on several outdoor performances in collaboration with the Town of Occoquan. I think people need a creative outlet and the opportunity to connect with a story — and we need it now more than ever.”
For the 2022-2023 season, theatre lovers can expect to indulge in some of their favorite classics including The Taming of the Shrew, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Alice in Wonderland. The Castaways Repertory Theatre is especially glad to have live and in-person shows back in the community.
“The theater is for everyone, no matter your level of experience, natural talent or comfort onstage,” Berg says to those in the Prince William community who are interested in performing arts. “There is a place for you with Castaways.”
For more information on auditions, showtimes, membership signup, or donating, visit castawaystheatre.org.
Dominique McIndoe (email@example.com) is an assistant editor at Rowman & Littlefield and a longtime writer.