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Theater Groups Joining Forces

Members of C.A.S.T. and The Great Falls Players plan to merge in an effort to meet the new requirements of Alden Theatre.

For the last 20 years, Claire Kiley, performing arts director for the McLean Community Center, has worked to ensure that the Alden Theatre meets the needs of the community groups that use it, while simultaneously providing McLean with a diverse array of programs.

"I've always booked the theater with the idea of accommodating the unique needs of our groups," said Kiley. "For example, the symphony can't be two weeks apart, and the theater groups all want to have three weekends per run ... the theater has always been scheduled with these things in mind, but we also have to gauge what the public is asking us to provide."

Over the years, McLean has grown, and subsequently, so has the demand for its community center facilities. Two years ago, the community center's Board of Directors decided to take a closer look at exactly how the Alden Theatre was being used.

"With all of the interested parties, the Board is always looking at the best and highest use type of policy," said Kiley.

The result was a Board decision to implement a new set of requirements for the many community theater groups that use the space. Under the new system, the groups will alternate the number of shows they do per year. One group would get to do two shows one year, and would then only be able to do one the following year. The McLean Symphony will be permitted five concerts per year.

"Basically it was a situation where the board said, ‘we would like you to work harder to get more McLean residents involved, and we want you to think about your play selection and choose things that might have a broader interest,’" said Kiley. "It was not really a financial consideration at all — it was a question of are we serving the public in the best possible way and are we serving community theater in the best possible way?"

THERE ARE THREE main community theater groups which use the Alden Theatre — The McLean Theater Alliance, C.A.S.T. and the Great Falls Players. In an effort to avoid competition and ensure their maximum usage of the theater, two of these groups, C.A.S.T. and the Great Falls Players, have decided to join forces.

"We are definitely moving ahead with merger plans," said Jeff Shue, President of C.A.S.T. "We have formed a joint committee that has representatives from both groups ... it's been a good process."

For the last 12 years, C.A.S.T. has put on a musical on at Alden Theatre every summer.

"Our schedule is unaffected by some of the recent changes that they've announced," said Shue.

In fact if anything, the impending merger will mean that C.A.S.T. members will now be able to use the Alden Theatre more frequently than they had before.

"The merged entity will take on performances of both groups, so we will be able to do one or two more shows per year," said Shue.

He added that he does not think it will be difficult to accommodate the board's requirement that a certain percentage of people participating in the show be from McLean.

"If you think about it, they want to make sure that we've got people from McLean participating, they want to make sure that we've got good attendance — these are all things that we strive to do anyway," said Shue. "So we are really looking at this as a codification of our goals."

IN ADDITION to the symphony and the theater groups, Kiley says that the theater must also be used for a variety of other programs.

"We have performance series of music, dance and theater, a film series and a classical music series," said Kiley. "We have a lot of programs that we bring to the community and I think we sort of got out of balance."

Kiley added that community input has made the Board realize that there is a demand for more family and children oriented programs, and that the Board has encouraged the various theater groups to keep this in mind when choosing their shows. She says she is hopeful that the merger will help to ensure that the new policies run smoothly.

"Whatever happens it will be good because we can move forward and have a more productive theater schedule," said Kiley.

Although the groups have also been encouraged to look into the possibility of using other spaces, the Alden Theatre will always be the top choice in McLean.

"It's a really great space to work in," said Shue. "It's got all of the best equipment, it's got very nice and comfortable seating for the audience, and they've got a pit that you can raise and lower which a lot of places don't have. So it has a lot of benefits."

Kiley says that the board is well aware of this, and their goal is to come up with the best possible solution for everyone involved.

"But sharing is not going to get any easier if there is more theater," said Kiley. "We do want community theater. We want good, strong, positive community theater... it is really not a financial consideration. For us it's a space allocation issue."