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Clarksville Players embark on fund drive for Fine Arts Center / November 29, 2017
For nearly 45 years, the community has enjoyed live theatre by the Clarksville Community Players at the Clarksville Fine Arts Center (CFAC). From “Life with Father” to more recent shows such as “Into the Woods,” “Big River,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” this local troop has enriched, educated and entertained audiences by providing a superior theatre experience.

The Players perform their shows in a 288-seat facility built in 1934 that once served as the auditorium and classrooms for Clarksville High School and then Clarksville Elementary School.

Walking through the newly renovated costume and prop rooms of the Fine Arts Center is to experience first-hand the evolution of the group since its founding in 1973. From the beginning, these amateur actors were not afraid to tackle complicated shows. They’ve performed “Death Takes a Holiday,” “South Pacific,” “Man of La Mancha,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “On Golden Pond,” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” to name a few; though not always to rousing audience support. But still they continued.

While the Players seldom preserve entire sets — CCP board president Charlie Simmons calls the sets and backdrops the only art form with a limited life — many of the costumes, shoes, and set pieces from past shows are stored behind the stage. Among the artifacts are ruby slippers from the “Wizard of Oz” and the chain dragged by Jacob Marley in “Scrooge: The Musical.”

Now the Clarksville Community Players are seeking to renovate and preserve the Fine Arts Center building, so that their legacy may continue far into the 21st century.

The group has hired Durham-based Belk Architecture to help with the design. Simmons says the firm has extensive experience with renovation and restoration of historic properties, including theatres.

Their aim is to create a venue that reflects the caliber of shows that take place in Clarksville. “Our vision for CFAC is to upgrade and renovate our center and to create a state of the art facility and performance venue in Virginia’s only lakeside town,” says Simmons.

They are turning to the community to raise money to complete the renovations. The capital campaign committee, chaired by Ken Morgan and Simmons, is hoping to raise $2 million from the community and other sources. Even before the campaign was launched last week, the group raised $400,000. Simmons sees the push for the final $1.6 million as very doable.

Simmons, who also heads the Clarksville EDA, says this fundraising drive is for more than the renovation of an historic structure. The arts and their associated facilities, he explains, have a significant impact on a community’s economic development. They contribute to the quality of life that attracts businesses and new people to the area. They pose an opportunity and location for an array of artistic expression, all of which enhances the livability of any town.

From its Double Nickel Players that affords seniors the chance to show their acting chops to the CCP Children’s Theatre Workshop, the Clarksville Community Players provide a focal point of Clarksville’s arts community.

Much has already been done to improve the theatre experience in the Fine Arts Center. The seats were restored, dressing rooms and costume storage were upgraded, asbestos was removed from the building, and the entire facility has been painted. Soon, work will begin on the new lobby.

That’s only the beginning, according to Simmons. He said the renovation goals include new electrical and HVAC systems, moving the lobby to the front of the building, adding art gallery space, relocating and expanding the restroom facilities, upgrading and modernizing the lighting and sound systems, and creating classroom space that can double as meeting or exhibit spaces.

The capital campaign committee hopes to entice donors by offering naming rights to rooms or fixtures in and about the theatre space. For $300 you can fund a brass star in the sidewalk in front of the theatre. For $600 your name is placed on a brass plaque attached to a theatre seat, and for $100,000 you can name the lobby. The first person to contribute $800,000 earns the right to rename the Fine Arts Center building. Simmons stresses that all contributions, no matter the amount, are important to this campaign.

Keeping this theatre group going and restoring the building enriches the lives of those who take an active part in it, as well as those living here who enjoy the performances and see benefit in live theatre productions, says Simmons. That’s true whether you are on the stage or in the audience.

He adds that children are a big part of CCP’s program, and a reason why the renovations will include classroom space. Many stars have been born in this community theater, among them Don Hite and Zachary Glasscock, who recently made his directorial debut at a community theatre in Farmville. Many others have taken their first dance steps, pronounced their first speeches, and sang their first notes here in Clarksville. The addition of classroom space will ensure that future stars have a place to hone their craft.

Asked why people here should keep community theatre alive, and donate to a state-of-the-art facility, Simmons answers that community theatre is a place of new discoveries and lifelong learning. It is a safe place for people of all ages and experiences to come together. That’s what CCP has been since 1973 when the group first formed, and he hopes CCP will continue to be long after he is gone.

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