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Returning to Green Gables

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The cast for "Anne of Green Gables" rehearses.

Since 1908, a fictional girl named Anne, from Green Gables in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island, has been entertaining children and adults alike whether it be in the original book “Anne of Green Gables,” by Lucy Maud Montgomery or in film or stage. To celebrate this 100th anniversary, the Leesburg Theatre Company (LTC) will be putting on their own version of the show Aug. 9, 10, 16 and 17 and they hope to bring the story to life for a whole new generation of children and adults.

“‘Anne of Green Gables’ was one that everyone said, ‘I remember the first time I saw that,’ and it struck a nostalgic chord. We hope parents would want to share that with their children,” Karl Meier, assistant director of the show and vice chairman of LTC, said. “It’s a widely appealing story. The story line appeals to everyone and the antics are just generally funny to everybody and very endearing.”

THOSE ANTICS involve Anne, played by Emily Price, an orphaned child who is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. The problem is they were expecting a boy. However, they keep her and the show follows the over-imaginative Anne through her life growing up in the area. Though many of the scenes are comedic, director Kevin G. Summers, who is also one of the founding members of the LTC, said that the story also contains many emotional scenes that can pull at the heartstrings.

“[Anne is] very over-dramatic about everything,” Price said. “She gets a lot of ideas from the books she reads and she just believes that’s how people act. Since she’s gone through so many sad experiences in her life, to get over it she acts overly dramatic about everything. She’s a very innocent character as well.”

While the show is set in the turn of the century, the director believes that the antics of Anne and her cohorts apply to children and adults today. The story is really about growing up in the world and coming into one’s own he said. Of course, the script has been slightly abridged since the show is being geared toward children, a first for the LTC, but the overall themes and important scenes that most people remember are included, including one where Anne gets caught in a sinking ship.

“There are so many fun scenes and Anne’s character is very enjoyable to watch …. I like the scene where Aunt Diana gets accidentally drunk and I get to just rattle on about the story before I realize it. That’s a lot of fun,” Price said. “We have another scene where Anne tries to re-enact a poem where she’s the Lady Elaine and she goes off to a boat and gets in some trouble. The scene is just a lot of fun.”

FUN SEEMS TO be what the actors are having, too. The show is comprised of mainly local actors from around the area. Some have performed before professionally and for others it is their first time on the stage. Summers says that the cast has been really getting into character and that with a week left in rehearsal they’re ready to go on now and deliver a great show.

“The cast is really good,” Steven Watters, who is a first-time actor and is playing Matthew Cuthbert, said. “I’ve been particularly impressed with Emily. She definitely has the lion’s share of the time on stage and script and she has been fantastic. It’s fun to watch people who have been in plays before and are use to this and they’ve been open to me and given me pointers on different things, so it’s been really fun working with them.”

The cast has been working well together and feels that the show is going to be very good. Part of the thanks goes to Summers, who cast members said is a very character-driven director and whose style works well with the play. He has also been helping some of the newer actors work into their roles and teaching them different tricks to acting like how to memorize lines and really get to know characters.

“Kevin is very much a director who is focused on character and what is really interesting is that, yes, he starts out with blocking, but really he wants to see what characters come out of people and it has been really interesting to work with him and see these characters come out of people. I think he gets a very natural result and you see the characters shining through the actors in a very natural way,” Meier said.

The stage is located at Crossroads Baptist Church, which donated the space. While the area is small LTC is bringing in a piece to extend the stage and working around the size limitations.

“It’s wonderful stage. They’ve let us come in and use their space and move around everything. There are some limits to what can be done there because the stage is small and the ceiling is low, but we’re constructing a second space to make more room. I took the constraints into account before I picked the show, so I knew how to work with it,” Summers said.

Some tricky parts have been getting lighting right and figuring out a way to make the boat Anne gets caught in sink. But the stage designers and director have found ways around the problems despite a tight budget.

THE LTC IS funded by volunteers and donations along with a few grants from the county and Leesburg itself. Many of the costume and stage designers are volunteers and are also involved in area theater companies like the Sterling Playmakers, which have been around a bit longer than the LTC, which was founded in the summer of 2004.

“I had been in a production of 'Our Town' in Vienna and I was driving all the way there and thinking, why am I doing this? Why isn’t there a theater group in Leesburg that’s nearby. I think it should be the arts center of the county, but it isn’t and so we wanted to bring a theater group here.”

The group's goal is to try to perform plays that locals might not get a chance to see anywhere else. Since it’s inception LTC has tried to put on plays that go outside the standard norm of community theater.

“We want to do plays that don’t regularly get done. Not that I don’t love ‘The Music Man’ and ‘Oklahoma,’ I do love those shows, but you see them all the time. Some other things get overlooked so we try to do some new shows that haven’t been done. The Playmakers do the big shows really well so we wanted to do some smaller more intimate shows,” Summers said.

All the shows hold open auditions for performers and welcome anyone of any skill level. Meier describes the LTC as a great place for beginners and veterans to perform, learn and grow as actors. The group is also hoping to expand it’s children’s programming with “Anne of Green Gables” being it’s launching point.

“I kind of see our children’s program doing one a year in the summer. I don’t want to be the only director for children’s theater either, I’d love a bunch of people to come in with different shows. We really want the children’s program to expand,” Summers said.