The Grove Theatre: Everything’s goin’ their way…!

By Laura Longley

It’s been a year of mighty big challenges for all of our high school students, but things are looking up, especially for Woodgrove High School’s theater students, who are performing the musical Oklahoma! this month.

First, they have theater teacher Addie Schafer Benko to thank for her grant-writing talents in landing Wolf Trap funding for technical resources and for striking up partnerships with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and Virginia Piedmont Heritage Foundation. The grant also is helping launch a Pop Up Purcellville museum—a socially distanced walk-in museum to visit on your way to your seat. 

Speaking of seats—more of them: They might be the best news of all. On April 19, you could hear the bravos! all across the Commonwealth as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) responded to parents’ petitions and the pleas of arts education organizations to expand capacity limits at school arts performances such as musicals and plays. Previously, they’d been categorized as social gatherings with restricted attendance.

“I’ve heard a lot of feedback from parents and students that these events should be treated the same as athletic events, and I agree,” said Northam. “So we’ll increase the number of people to 100 indoors or 30 percent of that venue’s capacity. If it’s outdoors, it will increase to 500 people or 30 percent of capacity.” 

That’s a significant and encouraging jump. Woodgrove’s Benko explains, “Basically, before the governor’s decision, the size of audiences and participants for a concert or play could be 50 people total inside, including cast and crew, and a 20-person audience. You could have 100 total outside. But for bigger programs and schools, with cast sizes bigger than 50, their performances were canceled outright. We advocated as a community to get the same opportunity as athletics with their teams and spectators, and we succeeded in gaining parity.”

For Woodgrove’s four live and two streaming performances of Oklahoma!, The Grove Theatre company can now welcome more theatergoers to Lovettsville’s WeatherLea Farm, the rural venue they chose to capture the musical’s sense of place in the “Oklahoma and Indian Territories.” The live shows can have a 100-person audience
socially distanced in an outdoor arena at the farm. The live streaming events can pretty much have an unlimited audience

The play’s not the only thing

Oklahoma!—the first collaboration of famed partners Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II—established the standard for American musical theater. Set in the town of Claremore in 1907 just before President Theodore Roosevelt dissolved the territories and proclaimed Oklahoma the 46th state, the play focuses on a spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys. That friendly competition provides the backdrop for the love story between Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a beautiful farm girl. The road to true love is anything but smooth, but there is no doubt that these two will succeed in making a life together. As the road to romance and the road to statehood converge, Curly and Laurey are poised to spend their new life together in a brand new state.

In the course of readings and rehearsals, Woodgrove’s students have had the opportunity to explore more than character development and artistic storytelling. The Wolf Trap grant encourages “project-based learning.” Addie Schafer Benko’s program serves as an example of what project-based learning success looks like.

While students have been portraying life in 1907 Claremore, they’ve also been studying life in the same period in Purcellville. They’ve learned how Loudoun’s 400 dairy farms supplied the greater Washington area and how a swelling population and increased development over the past century have brought about the end of dairy farming in Loudoun. Only the Potts family’s Dogwood Farm two miles south of Purcellville remains.

They’ve also learned about small rural towns’ schooling, cultural life, and businesses, such as Nichols Hardware and Loudoun County Milling.

And they’ve expanded the theater experience with a “Purcellville Pop Up Museum” installation at WeatherLea Farm, which will feature audio and in-person stories related to Western Loudoun history from around the period spanning 1880 to the 1920s. 

But what still matters most to any performer is their audience’s enthusiasm. So when The Grove Theatre’s players come to their finale, don’t be shy about joining them in their last, rousing  “YEEOW!”

Tickets, Times, Location

Get your tickets now at for live and/or streaming performances.

Live (4 total):  May 14 – 6 p.m.; May 15 – 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.; May 16 – 1 p.m. Streaming (2 total): May 22 at 6 p.m.; May 23 at 1 p.m. WeatherLea Farm, 39595 WeatherLea Farm Lane, Lovettsville, VA 20180.

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