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Laurel Mill Playhouse joins regional telethon to help theaters raise money during the coronavirus pandemic

Anwar Thomas did a piece for the Reston Community Players’ Community Theatre Thrives Telethon, scheduled for July 17 and 18, in support of the Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Anwar Thomas did a piece for the Reston Community Players’ Community Theatre Thrives Telethon, scheduled for July 17 and 18, in support of the Laurel Mill Playhouse. (Maureen Rogers / HANDOUT)

In less than two weeks, supporters of Laurel Mill Playhouse — including actors, singers, directors, designers and videographers — united to create an hour-long video showcasing all the local theater company has to offer. Featuring songs, commentary and acting, the video will be aired during the Reston Community Players’ Community Theatre Thrives Telethon on Friday and Saturday.

“It was so nice Reston reached out to us and so nice that they are doing this,” said Maureen Rogers, a member of Laurel Mill Playhouse’s board. “There are 14 different theaters and we will all share whatever donations there are.”

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The 14 theaters are all members of Washington Area Theatre Community Honors, an organization created to recognize and award artistic and technical excellence in community theater, according to its website. To participate, each had to provide a block or blocks of prerecorded performances, interviews and peeks behind the scenes and agree to staff phone banks during their time slots, according to Cara Giambrone, who handles public relations for Reston Community Players, of Reston, Virginia. Laurel Mill Playhouse is scheduled for the 9 to 10 p.m. slot on Friday.

“Everyone’s content is a little different,” Giambrone said, in an email, of the videos.

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Both past and present performers, designers, etc., were willing to participate in Laurel Mill Playhouse’s video, according to Michael Hartsfield, a board member who organized the acts. While some prerecorded themselves at home and sent in their clips, many came to the playhouse to be recorded.

“We had the whole thing scheduled because of COVID, so everyone was spread out and there was no overlapping,” Hartsfield said. “We did around 10 live recordings between a Saturday and Sunday.”

Much of the video showcases vocal performances, Rogers said, though there are snippets about set design, a Celtic number, scenes from plays and a presentation about the theater by Rogers.

“We squeezed it all in there,” Rogers said.

As theaters remain closed due to the pandemic, fundraisers like Reston’s telethon can provide much needed help, Hartsfield said.

“It is going to be hard to maintain companies when there is no end in sight,” Hartsfield said. “We have no income coming in.”

The board, Rogers said, has “a lot of thinking to do” about how it will reopen when allowed, with social distancing and both the safety of the audience and cast to consider.

“It is not going to be the same until a vaccine comes out,” Rogers said. “We need to bring in revenue. We have a mortgage to pay.”

She is encouraged, however, by the support the theater has received.

“It has really been wonderful to see people come together to do this for Laurel Mill Playhouse,” Rogers said. “They were all willing to donate their time and energy for this.”

Hartsfield has been either directing or acting at Laurel Mill Playhouse for the past 10 years. He and his cast are still rehearsing occasionally online for the company’s postponed spring production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which will be the company’s first show when doors reopen.

“Laurel Mill Playhouse is basically my second home,” Hartsfield said. “All community theater is important. It offers quality theater to people not able to go to New York City or to shows at the Kennedy [Center] on a regular basis.”

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The Community Theatre Thrives telethon will be streamed live on theatrethrives.org and on YouTube at 6:30 p.m. Friday and again all day Saturday. Donations will be accepted online and by phone at 833-615-0922.

“Theater companies throughout our area have been hit hard by the pandemic, with some companies having to cancel productions mere hours before opening night,” said Jolene Vettese, president of Reston Community Players, in a statement. “We thought a live streamed telethon would be a wonderful way to be able to come together virtually, share the talent of the region and help ensure that community theater continues to thrive in the capital region for years to come. We need theater in our communities, and right now, community theater needs us.”

The 14 theater companies participating in the Community Theatre Thrives telethon include:

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