By Tim Jon
Yeah – it was those balconies that got me; no, I’m not simpering about losing my heart on Bourbon Street: I’m just going back, about 20 years or more, to the first time I walked into the courtyard area at Market Station in Downtown Leesburg. A group of ‘theatre people’ took that initial tour in scouting possible staging venues for a local production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew; I had been selected to direct the venture after I’d assembled a cadre of actors for weekly workshops focused on bringing the words of the Immortal Bard to life in our times.
Now, I had worked as an actor for more years (decades, in fact) than I care to admit – never becoming rich or famous, yet accumulating a wealth of experience, a treasury of friendships, and more fun than I could ever relate; I had taken only one theatre directing class in college, and hadn’t been sufficiently interested to fully apply myself to the craft. But this was different: I had a group of people who had my trust, and the only way they were ever going to experience Shakespeare, on their feet, in front of an audience, was through my effort and leadership.
So, this was the weighty responsibility I bore shoulder-wise as we looked over the mostly-wooden materials making up the oddly Renaissance-like (to me) space-in-the-midst-of-shops at Market Station. I fell in love with all the vertical space: it seemed there were balconies in every direction – I could surround the audience with living characters in a compelling story, and have a great time doing it while working out-of-doors.
Whoa, Baba Looey: you can’t just place your actors wherever you want ‘em – you need to think about the audience’s ability to see and hear, without twisting their heads off their shoulders in trying to view your play! So – I had to actually start thinking like a real theatre director – from the perspective of the spectators; I did, to the best of my abilities, and still had (for the most part) a great time. And we used every one of those three-tiered balconies – stacked upon each other one-two-three. One important lesson learned in my school-of-hard-knocks theatre training was: the performance must use the entire playing space: if not, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.
So, the Market Station courtyard played host to a full-length (albeit after some judicial cutting for clarity and expediency) Shakespeare production in the summer of 2000 – September, if I correctly recall. So – experiences were had, friendships were formed and strengthened, and, did we have fun?
Yes, we did. So much that the core group of those involved formed our own local theatre company – Not Just Shakespeare – because, as I used to say, “That’s what we do!” And I think we staged a total of five shows in that space (All’s Well That Ends Well we moved to the southern end of the complex) and did a couple more in the former Round Hill Elementary School, another pair at Morven Park – and even utilized the Franklin Park Performing Arts Center. And those were just the Shakespeare shows; we also put up some Neil Simon, Sam Shepard, Thornton Wilder and Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias. More experience, more friendship, and more fun.
And during the entire run of all this frolicking, I was serving full-time as News Director at Wage Radio in Leesburg – a position in which I, true to form, grew neither rich nor famous, but reveled in my experiences, relationships and love of the work.
Now, the airwaves are silent, I deliver mail to pay the bills, and our theatre company is no more than memory. And these have been good changes, in many ways; I now frolic with a rough-and-tumble group of 21st Century Cowboys. We complain with the best of ‘em, but we generally love the actual work. Transformation can be a positive thing.
But – on my last visit to the Market Station Courtyard, I could still hear, and I could still see, and I could still feel – snatches of performances by my wonderful friends – some of whom I’ve never seen again in the flesh after all these years.
I hope the wooden complex in downtown Leesburg always remains – to me, at least – as a reminder that magic and poetry once filled the air – and sometimes – just sometimes, they still do.
And this story is offered with the proviso that I don’t often travel down memory lane, and when I do, I seldom stay in one place very long; living in the past, one can often miss out on the present.
And you’ll notice I singled out no individual actors, technicians, designers or others involved; suffice to say that at least 50 individuals offered some kind of service to each production. If you want to get to know a lot of people, get involved in theatre.
And, I recall that the very first story in this series of specific locations (now in itself dating back over 10 years) focused on the historic Old Stone Church site in Leesburg: I used to sit – my first summer in Loudoun County – on the bench at that spot just off South Wirt Street and read my Shakespeare among the tombstones, trees, birds and squirrels. I hardly dreamed that I’d be directing full-cast productions of the Bard within a couple of years – just a couple of stones’ throws from that place. Funny how time, space and us mere mortals can sometimes fit together just right.