April 2004 December 2008
In April of 2004, Meredith Bean McMath gathered a group of like-minded individuals for the purpose of forming a new theatre company in Loudoun County, Virginia. Group founders included Angie Burkhart, Maxine Bean, Tracey Donnelly, Diane El-Shafey, Michelle Hixon, Margaret Levay, Nani Power, Abigail Seymour, and Elizabeth Wilmer. In the next few months, the group formed Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws and a mission statement, established a board of directors, elected officers and Meredith Bean McMath became the founding Artistic Director.
The name “Aurora Studio Theatre" was chosen, in honor of the Greek origins of theatre. Aurora or Eos, the Goddess of the Dawn, represents the life-giving light theatre can bring to the world. “Studio Theatre” was chosen to indicate the aspects of both education and theatrical production. Michelle Hixon created a corporate logo for the company that contained the rays of a rising sun.
In November Aurora premiered with Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN, an adaptation written and directed by McMath (a prize-winning playwright). The show was produced at Hillsboro's Old Stone School, a community center managed by the Hillsboro Community Association. Opening night response was overwhelming, and each of the remaining eight performances were sold out. Over 1300 people saw the show, including members of the press, and Aurora received the first of many rave reviews.
The March played (L to R) by Mandy Juraschek (Amy), Diane El-Shafey (Marmee),
Mary Triplett (Jo), Cate Oliver (Beth), and Jenny Sugden (Meg)
In January of '05, McMath submitted the 501(c) 3 application, and Aurora Studio Thatre, Inc. was granted non-profit status within a month. A few months later, Diane El-Shafey directed The Pajama Game at Hillsboro's Old Stone School - the first of many succesful Aurora musicals. A fundraiser "Pajama Party" after one show netted over $1500 in donations for The Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter.
That spring also marked the first library program presented by Aurora: "A Visit with the Stars of LITTLE WOMEN." The program was presented at several Loudoun libraries from January through April of '05, to the delight of a host of young fans. The actors (all four March Sisters, as well as their friend Laurie) remained in character to tell their histories and then play 19th century games with their guests.
"A Visit with the Stars of LITTLE WOMEN"
In the summer, Diane El-Shafey taught “Professional Theatre Makeup,” assisted by Michelle Hixon, and Phil Erickson and Meredith Bean McMath co-taught “Improvisation!”
In the fall of 2005, Aurora ventured into dark comedy with Arsenic and Old Lace, directed by Michelle Hixon. The show was extremely well received, with a set by Margaret Levay that also garnered rave reviews.
Artist Penny Hauffe created the faux-stained glass effect,
recreating a Tiffany Peacock in tissue paper
In January of '06, Meredith McMath taught “A Crash Course for Young Playwrights," a program co-sponsored by Franklin Park Performing and Visual Arts. The class included a visit by former Arena Stage Literary Manager Michael Kinghorn and ended with a ten-minute play competition. The plays were then produced, free to the public, at Round Hill Center, Round Hill, Virginia with dramatic readings by actors Phil Erickson and Penny Hauffe. Aurora Board members chose Rachael Barksdale’s Thrice Ain’t So Bad as the winner.
In the spring of 2006, Aurora produced its second spring musical, Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Musical Director Diane El-Shafey, Stage Director Meredith Bean McMath) at both Hillsboro’s Old Stone School and Leesburg’s Loudoun Country Day School Theatre. The summer 2006 production was Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (Directed by Nate Juraschek). A fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, "A Cinderella Tea Party," was held at Loudoun Country Day School with the enthusiastic participation of the entire cast
That summer, Aurora brought back "Improvisation!” co-taught this time by Phil Erickson and Penny Hauffe. A Leesburg Today artcle by Carol White captured the essence of Improv, noting its addictive hilarity as well as its more serious side: the promotion of fearless acting.
In the fall of 2006, Aurora presented another adaptation: Arms and the Highlander (based on George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man), written and directed by McMath.
L to R: Chris Saunders, Ernie Carnevale, Stephen Beggs and Penny Hauffe in Aurora's acclaimed production of ARMS AND THE HIGHLANDER
In the spring of 2007, Aurora produced Treasures: the Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written by Growing Stage Co-Founder Dolly Stevens and Hill Playhouse and Creative Youth Founder Tom Sweitzer. The show had had its premiere performance at Hillsboro's Old Stone School theatre eleven years before when it was directed by Tom Sweitzer with Dolly Stevens as Aunt Polly. Aurora's production was directed by Millie Juraschek, with Musical Direction by Diane El-Shafey, Choreography by Kellie Goossens, and Fight Choreography by Carolyn Christensen.
In the summer of 2007, Jim Campanella and Carolyn Christensen co-taught “Swords and Stunts” to a class whose ages ranged from 14 to 60. Aurora showcased the students’ new talents in a series of short vignettes provided to the public free of charge in the courtyard of Leesburg’s Market Station in August. Members of the summer “Improvisation!” class joined them to play various improv games and engage in mayhem with the audience.
Siblings Carson and Kaichen McCrea play out a scene
at the Market Station Courtyard free Showcase in Leesburg, Virginia
Many of these actors then formed the basis of “Aurora’s Traveling Players,” a 19th century-style traveling troupe who staged a show at the October 2007 Waterford Fair in Waterford, Virginia (America’s oldest crafts fair). Visitors enjoyed more swordplay, stunts and a fractured take on “Jack and the Beanstalk."
Snake Oil Salesman Bob Rosenberg and
his lovely assistant, Lucia Pull
By 2007, Aurora’s Board of Directors was actively seeking new places to perform, both to gather new patrons and to be closer to the majority of patrons (85% of attendees were found to live in Purcellville, Hamilton and Round Hill). Purcellville had completed renovations and opened The Carver Center, a new senior center with public theatre space in the ca. 1940 school. Aurora was the second company to produce a show there, when it brought The Mousetrap over from Leisure World in October of 2007.
The Mousetrap at Carver Center Theatre
to R: Natalie DeHart, Chris Saunders, Nancy McCarthy,
Bob Rosenberg, Chris Stone, Kevin Daly,
Melissa Martin-Marsh and John VanEck
In 2008, Aurora introduced the concept of dinner theatre to Loudoun County with its February production of Iron S'Kill-It at Grandale Farm Restaurant" (directed by James Campanella). Aurora found, as suspected, that Loudoun jumped at the chance to see dinner theatre, and the show sold out two weeks before it began.
In the spring of 2008, Aurora presented a new library program: "Royals and Rustics: a High School Student's Guide to Shakespeare." Co-taught by Meredith Bean McMath and professional actor David Bolton, the programs were presented free every Saturday from April through May at four libraries across Loudoun County, courtesy of a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
In the summer of 2008, Aurora presented Tina Howe's The Art of Dining at the National Conference Center. Directed by Ike Stoneberger, the show was a reunion for lead actors Nate Juraschek and Carolyn Christensen who had starred in Art of Dining ten years before in a Loudoun Valley High School production also directed by Ike Stoneberger!
The Aurora 2008 season finished with a bang, with a full production of Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls performed at at Franklin Park Performing and Visual Arts Center. Musical Direction by Diane El-Shafey, stage direction by James Campanella, Fight Choreography by Terry Smith and Dance Choreography by Carolyn Christensen and Amy Lanham. The show received rave reviews, and it became a perfect Swan Song for Aurora's four and a half successful years of productions, classes, and programs.