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HatTheatre’s 25th Anniversary Season Takes the Story of Hillary Clinton to an Alternate Universe

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For Richmond's theater community, 1993 was an important year.

It was when Richmond Triangle Players staged its first shows in the upstairs of an afterhours speak-easy. It was when Firehouse Theatre Project — now Firehouse Theatre — performed its first show in a decommissioned fire station on Broad Street.

But another theater company can trace its roots back a year earlier. In 1992, Henrico's HatTheatre began conducting acting classes, performing its first show in January 1993. Because of this, the theater company is celebrating its silver anniversary.

The nonprofit company began by holding its first shows and classes in rented spaces, such as high schools. Eventually, the fledgling company took up its permanent location inside the West End strip mall where it has been ever since.

Through all of its incarnations, the one constant has been executive director Vickie Lynn Scallion.

"At the time, there wasn't anything farther than downtown," says Scallion of her theater's beginnings.

HatTheatre's cozy, 70-seat black box theater was once much cozier; initially the company's space off Patterson Avenue was only about half as large. When a next-door tenant moved, Hatt rented that space and knocked down a wall, nearly doubling its size.

"It is a small, intimate space, and the actors who have worked on it love it," Scallion says of her stage. "It's kind of stripped down, [which helps focus attention] on the characters."

Initially staging programming that catered to all audiences, Hatt now includes a mix of shows intended for families and adults. A Hatt season can include from two to five shows, including collaborations with other theater companies like 5th Wall Theatre and Richmond Triangle Players.

"Our philosophy has always been [that] we'd rather do a smaller number of really good shows than do a larger number of shows that aren't as good," Scallion says.

Every show Hatt stages is a Richmond premiere, including this season's two nonfamily-themed shows: Lucas Hnath's "Hillary and Clinton" and the Andrew Lippa musical "John & Jen." The former is set in an alternate universe and concerns a woman named Hillary who is running for president. The year is 2008, and Hillary isn't faring well in the polls.

"This is not necessarily a play about Hillary Clinton," explains Deejay Gray, director of the show and artistic director of TheatreLab on Broad Street. "It's more about the idea of Hillary Clinton."

Though the play parallels the actual trajectory of Hillary Clinton, Gray says it does put some distance between the two. He adds that Hnath — who also wrote "The Christians," "A Doll's House, Part 2," and the Obie-winning "Red Speedo" — often tackles weighty themes in his writing without seeming forced.

"He has this really amazing ability to discuss large topics [in ways] that seem very pedestrian," says Gray, who has previously directed and appeared in shows at Hatt. "He does it in a way that makes it seem like you're eavesdropping on normal people talking about normal things."

Local actor and director Billy Christopher Maupin plays Mark, a political strategist working on Hillary's campaign.

"'Hillary and Clinton' is a strange little piece of theater," Maupin says. "It explores power and relationships and politics and passion, and it's not at all what you expect it's going to be."

For years, Maupin has acted, directed and taught classes at Hatt — including starring in Carol Piersol and Richmond Triangle Players' one-man show "Patti Issues." He lauds Scallion for her work these past 25 years.

"Vickie focuses on the creative process and allows wonderful creative expression in a way that I haven't seen at other theaters," says Julie Fulcher-Davis, an associate artist with the theater since 2009 and an artist in residence for the University of Richmond's theater and dance department

"John & Jen," the season's other adult-oriented show, will star Chris Hester and Georgia Rogers Farmer. The musical will be Hatt's entry in Richmond's annual Acts of Faith festival.

"It's about redemption, and we think it's a perfect fit [for the festival]," Scallion says. "The music's beautiful."

For Gray, Maupin, and other theater artists who have worked at Hatt, the 25th season has become something of a reunion.

"Vickie is a huge cheerleader of mine, and I'm excited to work with her again," Gray says. "It's feeling a bit like a homecoming, working on this project." S

"Hillary and Clinton" runs Nov. 3-12 at HatTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Drive. For information, visit hattheatre.org or call 343-6364.

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