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Theater celebrates 20th anniversary

HATTheatre has produced a number of original performances, including last season’s Jewtopia (above).

Henrico's HATTheatre likely wouldn't have survived its first two decades without a little luck – and a lot of faith.

So, naturally, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the theater is hosting a performance that questions faith.

Over the Tavern opened March 8, with additional performances scheduled March 15-17. The show is part of the Acts of Faith Festival, an initiative of Richmond's Second Presbyterian Church, faith communities and theater groups designed to spotlight various religious themes.

Over the Tavern features the at-times comical debates of children growing up in 1950s-era Buffalo who begin to question their Catholic upbringing.

"I heard there were over 1,300 religions," one says, "and I think I want to shop around for a more fun one."

HATTheatre founding member and executive director Vickie Scallion believes most people will be able to relate to the show's themes.

"For a large percentage of people, they are brought up in a household with certain family values, and at some point in their lives, they do question that," she says.

Scallion probably can relate to the theme. She created the HATTheatre as a way to bring entertaining and meaningful (yet low-cost) performances and theatrical classes to the Richmond region, but it hasn't been easy.

"Part of our mission is to make high-quality theater affordable for everyone," she says.

But meeting those goals can make meeting a bottom line challenging, too.

"We seat 70 people. Ticket prices are low. So, you put all that together and it isn't necessarily easy," Scallion admits. The theater has not applied for grants (because the process is too time-consuming and its manpower too limited) and doesn't have large corporate backers, either. Instead, it focuses on its core goals and takes on what it can handle.

"We put our money where we think it's important to be put," Scallion says. "We're very judicious. We've never been in debt."

That practical approach has allowed the theater to continue about its business, growing carefully along the way, for two decades.

"We would prefer to do one or two incredible shows as opposed to 5-6 mediocre ones," she says.

The theater holds open tryouts for its performances, and its cast members typically are veterans of the region's theater scene.

Scallion is proud of the fact that HATTheatre only produces shows that have never been seen in this region. It's also done several national and international premieres, including Bedraggled earlier this season.

The company lived nomadically in various rented spaces for its first four years before moving into its current spot (at 1124 Westbriar Drive, adjacent to the Tuckahoe Village Shopping Center just off Patterson Avenue).

It expanded its reach two years ago with the formation of the Black Box Players, a profit-sharing company troupe designed to empower the member actors by allowing them to take ownership (literally and figuratively) of the shows they perform.

"They have a lot more say in what we produce," Scallion says. "The more tickets we sell, the more profit they get to divide among themselves."

Another spinoff group, the Hat Box Players, serves as the theater’s youth and family arm, performing two musicals a year.

The theater's acting classes – available to anyone five or older – appeal to a wide variety of people, from (so far) CEOs, attorneys and vascular surgeons to businesswomen and the elderly, Scallion says.

"Some may have gotten a degree in theater but never used it. Some are working actors who want to keep that muscle strong when they're not on stage," Scallion says. "Then we have some who have no desire to be on stage, but they're taking those [acting] skills and applying them to real life."

Improv classes helped two women who found themselves unable to adequately convey their ideas during internal company meetings. After completing the course, one earned a promotion.

A series of one-week summer camp workshops allow budding student actors the opportunity to learn more about their favorite genres, such as musicals or science fiction.

Over the Tavern opens March 8 with an 8 p.m. show, followed by a show the same time March 9 and a 2 p.m. show March 10. The schedule repeats March 15-17. A "talk back" session will be held following the March 10 performance, during which audience members will be invited to discuss the performance's themes and plot with cast members and a priest.

In addition to its annual shows (usually three to five of them), HATTheatre also offers a number of "one-act weekends" and serves as the home of the West End Comedy troupe, which typically performs at the facility one weekend each month (a Friday night family show and a Saturday night adult show).

It all adds up to a busy schedule for the woman who aptly named her theater after all the hats actors tend to wear.

"It's full-time every hour of every day, unless I'm sleeping, which doesn't start until 3 a.m.," Scallion says, with only a hint of laughter in her voice.

To purchase tickets to Over the Tavern, register for classes or summer camps or learn more, visit http://www.hattheatre.org or call the box office at (804) 343-6364.
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