For almost every dynamic leader who acts as the public face of a local theater company, there is a dedicated behind-the-scenes worker diligently filling in the gaps and helping to keep the ship afloat.
Firehouse’s Joel Bassin has Associate Producer Adam Ferguson. Richmond Triangle Players recently added Lucian Restivo to the staff to act as Phil Crosby’s associate producing director. And Heritage Ensemble Theatre’s Margarette Joyner depends on Shalandis Wheeler Smith as her administrative director.
Because of that job, Smith has two roles in “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” that Heritage just opened at the Pine Camp Arts and Community Center this weekend. Onstage she plays Adele, the hard-working breadwinner in a family of freeloaders, and behind-the-scenes she helped engineer the agreement with Pine Camp that has the company producing its current season there after its agreement with Virginia Union University expired.
“We had been talking to Pine Camp about producing a show there last season but the timing didn’t work out,” says Smith. “It’s every company’s dream to have its own home, of course, but for now they’ve been very supportive of us coming in.” Next February Heritage will produce a new original work written by Joyner, “Message from a Slave,” at the northside arts center.
Smith has a bit of history at Pine Camp: her first appearance in a local pro production was with Henley Street Theatre (one of the precursors to Quill) in their staging of “Much Ado About Nothing” back in 2008. Though she grew up in Petersburg, Smith took a couple of detours before landing back in the area. After graduating from Norfolk State University, she took a job with a tech company in Maryland, before a rekindled romance with her high school senior prom date, now her husband, lured her back.
In addition to quickly scoring roles in productions by Henley Street and the now-defunct Petersburg company, Sycamore Rouge, when she returned Smith founded the Creative Souls Acting Troupe that produced staged readings and pop-up productions. That troupe got her talking to Joyner and a new working partnership was born.
Smith says she’s most excited about producing “Ceremonies” because it will be many people’s first exposure to playwright Lonne Elder III. “Everyone knows about writers like August Wilson, but we’re looking to get the names of other African American writers out there,” she says. “Ceremonies” was a runner-up for the 1969 Pulitzer Prize and Elder went on to write movie screenplays like “Sounder.”
Though Heritage is relatively new in town, it is finding its audience thanks to the persistent work of Joyner and Smith. “We’ll also be collaborating with Richmond Triangle Players on a show called ‘Choir Boy’ next year,” says Smith. “We’re an eager young company and always looking to form new partnerships.”
Folks will need to move fast to see “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men:” it only runs through next weekend, closing Nov. 19.
By the Way: Also opening this weekend was “A Tuna Christmas” at Swift Creek Mill, the first of two holiday revivals this season. Richmond faves Richard Koch and John Hagadorn each play more than a dozen roles in the show as they did in the 2008 production. The other revival, “Scrooge in Rouge,” previews on the Richmond Triangle Players stage starting Nov. 16, bringing back the popular 2009 take-off on “A Christmas Carol.”
Running: Quill’s “Assassins” will keep killing it at the Firehouse through Nov. 26.