Strays Find A Home

Without a venue since 2020, Chamberlayne Actors Theatre announces residency at Hanover Tavern.

It’s hard to keep track of which of its nine lives Chamberlayne Actors Theatre (or CAT) is now on. Operating without a home venue since 2020, the company just announced a residency at Hanover Tavern for its 2024-25 season, an arrangement that will provide more stability and opportunities for growth for the vagabond theater troupe.

“This is kind of a game-changing opportunity, for both our organization and the Tavern right now,” says Charles Wax, president of CAT’s board of directors.

The residency will also mean a significant uptick in activity on the Hanover Tavern stage. The location was the home of the Barksdale Theatre starting in 1953 and is one of three locations currently utilized by Virginia Repertory Theatre since it was created by the merger of Barksdale and Theatre IV in 2012.

While still producing shows at the Tavern, Virginia Rep has only two productions scheduled for their 2024-25 season.

“We had open spaces in our calendar so we started reaching out to local theater groups who might be looking for a home,” says David Deal, executive director of the Hanover Tavern Foundation. The Foundation bought the Tavern from Barksdale Theatre in 1990 and raised more than $5 million in order to restore and enhance the building and facilities.

“One of our board members, Jack Torza, was able to make contact with Charles. We met here and they seemed very pleased with the prospect of a home with a real theater space,” explains Deal.

In recent years, CAT has produced its shows in venues like Brightpoint Community College (Meteor Shower) and the Hanover Arts & Activities Center (Clever Little Lies, pictured).

The win-win nature of the arrangement allowed for an agreement to be struck quickly between the organizations. “We first heard from Jack at the end of May,” says Wax. “They opened the door for us, we toured the space, and I took it back to our board to talk about the pros and cons. There are a lot of pros for us.

“Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that our board meetings are monthly, we probably would have come to the agreement even quicker.”

CAT has been in operation since 1964, starting as a community theater group but ultimately transitioning into a professional company. Like many arts groups, the company was forced to go dark for almost 18 months during the pandemic. It was during that time that CAT also had to leave their original home on Wilkinson Road north of the city.

The three shows in the company’s 2023-24 season were staged in three different locations. “We’ve been stray cats for the past three years or so,” says Wax.

In addition to its performance space, called the Bradley Theater, Hanover Tavern has a full service restaurant and bar, a gift shop and exhibit space, and holds numerous educational and music events every year. “From our perspective, [this arrangement] will bring in customers that are going to dine in our restaurant either before or after the performance, or come back later for another one of our events,” says Deal.

“I always say the hardest thing is to get somebody to come here for the first time.”

CAT’s 2024-25 season will include three productions: “Painting Churches” this October, “Proof” in February of 2025, and “Honky Tonk Hissy Fit: A Doublewide, Texas Sequel” early next summer.

“We’re excited to call Hanover Tavern home for our next season at the very least, with hopes to continue on past that,” says Wax.

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