Over the years, Four County Players has fostered careers and seeded our regional theater scene through community participation. (Photo by Johncie Carlson (Into the woods, 1993))
“My first show at Four County Players was Man of La Mancha in 2002. I was 16,” said Gary White of the Barboursville-based theater company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary season. White, by day a paralegal at an area law firm, serves on the group’s programming committee and is also one of its most vocal advocates. “We are the definition of a community theater: people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds coming together with the common goal of putting on a show,” he said. “We’re not motivated by anything except our love of doing it.” Long-time Player Linda Zuby, whose first Four County production was Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart in 1993, confirmed, “They embody the true spirit of the community theater. There is a place for everybody.”
Four County Players holds the distinction of being the longest-running community theater in central Virginia, a feat accomplished via a mix of musicals, modern classics, and Shakespeare. Founded in 1973 by Lillian Morse and Bill Thomas and funded by whatever cash they could pool together from friends—legend has the total at 70 bucks—the Players quickly set up a permanent home in Barboursville after converting an abandoned schoolhouse to theatrical utility. Recently, a small, black box performance space called The Cellar was opened in the basement to allow for experimental and intimate pieces.
Ed Warwick (Annie, 2011), admits that one particular Cellar show, last season’s staging of Beckett’s Endgame, is, so far, his favorite production within his short but very active involvement with Four County. When asked about memorable Player events, theater manager Row Halpin (Belle of Amherst, 1987), one of two paid employees at Four County, said, “Plumbing repairs.”
“We did have the basement flood last year, which is where we (also house) our costume shop and props. Cleaning up pounds and pounds of wet taffeta is never any fun,” Warwick said.
White and Zuby agree that a recent Four County production of the musical Cabaret is among their most cherished experiences. “I still think about that show,” White said. “How we transformed the entire auditorium into an actual cabaret, and how real everything felt emotionally, visually. I get chills.”
This ruby anniversary season mashes up nostalgia—springing to mind is a revisit of Sondheim’s Into The Woods, originally produced by the Players in 1993—and new voices, including the premiere of Woman in a Tiled Room, written by local dramatist Shawn B. Hirabayashi and directed by theater veteran Fran Smith. 40 & Fabulous: A Four County Players Anniversary Musical Review, created and directed by Jane Scatena, promises a fairly genius mix of both old and new. It will also serve as the main fundraiser for the group.
When considering what the next two score years will be like for Four County Players, White said, “I think it will keep growing and changing, but the core will always remain the same: a small community theater in Barboursville, putting on stellar shows and keeping theater thriving.” Zuby added, “And trying to push the envelope on occasion.”