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Partnership's the Thing

Springfield Community Theater teams with the Greenspring Players for a production of 'The Sunshine Boys.'

When the curtain went up for opening night of the Springfield Community Theater (SCT) production of "The Sunshine Boys" Friday night at Greenspring Village in Springfield, the curtain itself was a cause for excitement.

"It’s the first time in our entire existence we’ve ever had a curtain," said Anita Gardner, director of the well-traveled Springfield Community Theater, an all-volunteer theater group without a permanent home base. SCT kicked off the season on Friday and is partnering with the Greenspring Players, a theater group at Greenspring Village, for the production of "The Sunshine Boys." The production is a one-time agreement that could grow into more if both groups are able to gain mutually from the collaboration.

For the 50-year-old Springfield theater, bringing the 3-year-old Greenspring Players on board is a way to boost a sagging volunteer corps and have a larger space to perform. Last year, the theater group went dark after its fall performance of "Side by Side by Sondheim," due to a lack of volunteers to fill management positions.

"We don't have as many volunteers as we used to have," said Gardner, whose group will also perform this year at Immanuel United Methodist Church in Annandale.

Michael Beattie, who plays one of two leads in the production of "The Sunshine Boys," said as an outsider, he sees the marriage of the two groups as a win-win situation.

"Springfield suffers from the same problem that a lot of other theaters in the area suffer from — not having a place to call their own," said Beattie, of Arlington. "As the collaboration gets more mature, I believe it's going to be a better scenario for both groups."

A VETERAN of Northern Virginia community theater, Beattie was recruited to the production by director Bruce Follmer. He plays Willie Clark, opposite Al Lewis, played by Springfield's Larry Conklin.

The Greenspring Players, with a current membership of 62, said they stand to benefit by soaking up the wisdom and experience of the members of SCT.

"I personally thought it was a great idea. I thought we could be learning something from them, while we’re giving them something they need. It seemed like a good trade-off," said Malcolm Searle, business manager for the Greenspring Players, who also plays a role in "The Sunshine Boys."

SCT has been involved with Greenspring before, putting on a production of "A Christmas Carol," and a one-act version of the C.S. Lewis children's book "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" there.

This year's collaboration is more than just about renting space from Greenspring. The SCT volunteers have used their experience at putting on plays to help the Greenspring Players learn the craft.

"We have the experience and expertise to assist them with their shows. And the other way around, they can help us with people and things that we need so desperately," said Gardner.

WITH THE cooperation of Erickson Management Group, which operates Greenspring, the facility has provided SCT with a space in which to produce the play, as well as the opportunity to learn.

"We’re learning, and they’re teaching to a large extent," said Searle, who built the sets, working from a design by SCT’s Jack Harrel.

"The Sunshine Boys" closes this weekend, with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Beattie said opening weekend was well-received, with over 500 in attendance for the three-day run.

SCT is hoping to return to Greenspring in April for the Adriana Hardy play "Love Letters" and also hopes to offer a series of theater workshops next summer.

"I can't emphasize how welcomed we have felt," said Gardner.

Thanks to the cooperation of Erickson Retirement Communities, the players have been able to rehearse and perform at Greenspring, where the stage has permanent lights and the aforementioned curtain, up to five nights a week in the period leading up to the opening,

"I don't think they know what they have. That's a valuable asset if they want it to be," said Beattie