Donors, patrons, and staff gather to celebrate the Blackfriars Playhouse 15th Anniversary

The Blackfriars Playhouse has been called “one of the most historically important theatres in the world” by Andrew Gurr, former director of research at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and its fifteenth anniversary was major cause for celebration. The ASC has been “doing it with the lights on” at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton since 2001, inviting audiences into the world of the plays by observing Shakespeare’s staging conditions. Since it opened, the Blackfriars Playhouse has hosted over 750,000 playgoers and seen 214 productions of 99 plays. The next fifteen years promise to be just as ambitious as the ASC continues to light up the darkness with compelling productions, engaging education programs, and annual summer camps, fostering new generations of Shakespeare play-goers and play-makers.

So it was with great cause that on Saturday, September 24th, nearly 200 ASC actors, staff, supporters, and honored guests gathered at the Blackfriars Playhouse and Stonewall Jackson Hotel for the Annual Benefit Celebration, to commemorate the fifteen year anniversary of the extraordinary Blackfriars Playhouse and another year of exemplary work by the company.

The evening’s celebration began at the Blackfriars Playhouse with a one-night-only staged reading of Shakespeare On Trial written by Co-Founder and Director of Mission Ralph Cohen, Managing Director Amy Wratchford, and Development Director Danielle Hoffman, directed by Artistic Director Jim Warren, and performed by the Summer/Fall Season Troupe. In the play John Avoli, Executive Director of the Frontier Culture Museum, Mayor of Staunton during the Blackfriars Playhouse fundraising and construction, and “Celebrity Judge” presided over multiple cases brought forth questioning the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. The clever and amusingly irreverent play settled once and for all that Shakespeare did indeed write the plays.

After the performance, the party continued at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center next door. Following a seated, three-course meal, ASC Co-Founder Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen presented two prestigious annual awards.

Tim Carroll, renowned and internationally acclaimed director of Shakespeare’s plays, was presented with the 2016 Burbage Award which honors a person whose work has advanced the enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare for the delight and instruction of the world. Carroll is the newly appointed Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival in Ontario, Canada. He was previously the Associate Director at the Globe Theatre in London where he directed the Tony Award-winning production of Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance. Upon receiving the award, he praised the ASC for its work, and said he had “found his people.”

The Robin Goodfellow Award is presented to a person whose work and generosity have helped the American Shakespeare Center grow and succeed, and whose contributions have been fundamental to the ASC’s mission of making the joys of Shakespeare accessible to all. This year the award was given posthumously to Thomas K. McLaughlin, Jr., the Architect of the Blackfriars Playhouse. His widow Mary and daughter Mary Elizabeth received the award on his behalf, and spoke movingly of Thomas’s enthusiasm for the Playhouse.

As Development Director Danielle Hoffman pointed out, not only did the fundraiser bring in tens of thousands of dollars to support Shakespeare performance and education here at ASC, “but it was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the Blackfriars Playhouse, the support of our community here in Staunton, and the exciting future of another fifteen years exploring the transformative impact of Shakespeare’s works with friends and supporters of all kinds.”