Blackfriars Playhouse: From the Ground Up

My story is more than a ShakeStory but had it not been for Shenandoah Shakespeare and the Blackfriars Playhouse, my story would never have happened.

I made my first trip to Staunton in December 1999 to meet with Ralph Cohen, Mayor John Avoli, Joe Harman and others to discuss a capital campaign for the Blackfriars Playhouse. I still remember looking out over Beverley Street from a 3rd floor window of the Witz Building. It was love at first sight.

I moved to Staunton on January 5, 2000, and lived at Frederick House for the next seven months while managing the fundraising campaign.  Joe & Evy Harman took me in as though I was a part of their family. Many people were excited about the possibilities but there were also many skeptics who believed this would never happen – not in Staunton.

Some would ask, “If they build it, where will people park?” I would say, “The city is going to build a parking garage,” and the usual response was an unbelieving, “Oh, sure.”  If I really wanted people to think I was crazy I would tell them that once the theatre was open, someone would come in and renovate the Stonewall Jackson.

My first visit to The Blackfriars Playhouse was May 2002, eight months after it opened. To say I was in awe at the beauty of the building is an understatement. I apologized to the actors after the play for not watching their performance.  I was too busy studying and taking in every intricate detail of the building. Talking with prospective investors in 2000, I would tell them how beautiful the Blackfriars Playhouse was going to be. Some nights I would have nightmares wondering what if we don’t raise enough money and they end up cutting corners and build something less than we envision. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Rather I was even more impressed than I could have ever imagined.

I continue to tell people every day about the Blackfriars Playhouse and Staunton in general. What a beautiful theatre and what a beautiful city. I will be forever grateful and indebted to Ralph Cohen, Joe & Evy Harman, John Avoli, Bill Hamilton, Lee Cochran, Preston Manning and too many others to mention for making me feel at home in Staunton and giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great project.  I would be remiss if I did not also thank John Lane and the people of Trinity Church for welcoming me and providing me a Church home during my time in Staunton. Those seven months were among the most special in my long life.  I visit as often as I can and can but never as often as I would like. Staunton and the people of Staunton will always hold a very special place in my heart.

There is so much more I could say about my experiences such as the opportunity to getting to know the actors and talking with them on a daily basis, sharing the vision of Blackfriars Playhouse with the downtown businesspeople, having daily meetings and discussions with Staunton’s business, political and community leaders about what this would mean to the future of Staunton.  Truly among the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my life.

I continue to share the story of the Blackfriars Playhouse, American Shakespeare Center and the people of Staunton wherever I go.

– Gerald Scott, Blackfriars Playhouse fundraiser and ASC enthusiast

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