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The Encore! Theatre Company keeps growing and growing

Encore! Exploding

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You might think of the Encore! Theatre Company as a fair-weather troupe. After all, it produces its successful Richmond Shakespeare Festival (RSF) in the heat of summer and its touring shows mostly play outdoors at state parks across Virginia. But this year, even as the mercury plunges, Encore! is in the midst of a red-hot flurry of activity.

"We're heading into some big stuff," says Artistic Director Grant Mudge. First-off will be a special presentation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," at the Barksdale Theatre on Dec. 13. The event will serve as an opportunity for the company to announce the lineup for next year's RSF, as well as launch a new Shakespeare series that will run at the Barksdale starting in February.

Mudge says the new relationship with the Barksdale benefits everyone involved. "We had been looking for a place to perform our touring productions in town," he explains. "People in Richmond never get to see these shows because we're always touring." Plays in the new series will be scheduled for Mondays and Tuesdays (traditional days off for theater productions) and offer matinees for school groups. "It's a good fit at the Barksdale because they haven't done much in the way of educational outreach before this," Mudge says.

Also being planned by the intrepid company: a new outdoor drama called "First Landing: 1607" that will begin an extended run in Virginia Beach this summer. And finally, when Encore! opens RSF 2000 next June, it will be on a brand-new, bigger stage being built by the festival's host, Agecroft Hall. The new stage will double the festival's capacity. "There were a couple of nights we had to turn people away last summer," Mudge says. "[The Agecroft administrators] said, 'Well, you don't have as many seats as you need. Would you like us to build you a stage?' What could we

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