"Stuffed" is the best way to describe the season of the 300-seat Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center. Active nearly every night, the theater is the home of films, plays, music and dancing as well as classes for everyone from 3-year-old rhythm musicians to middle-aged belly dancers.
"Our mission is to provide the community with a place to perform and high-quality performances worth seeing," said the theater's artistic director, Joel Snyder. Snyder, a radio actor who combines a disc jockey voice with infinite goodwill, has spent his 16 months with Alden lassoing his old summer stock buddies and sweet-talking agents for prestigious people. His efforts have paid off in a season of shows and classes much classier than those offered at the average community center.
This season already, the community center has had the National Theatre of the Deaf for a one-shot performance and workshop ("All 20 of them in our one, tiny dressing room" said Snyder. "Modesty goes out the window here."), a one-man show on Hans Christian Andersen, a performance and master class with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson and Friday, a sold-out performance last week of the ever-popular bluegrass band, Seldom Scene.
For next season Snyder has snared the actors' actress Uta Hagen, who created the role of Martha on Broadway for Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," as well as the Folger Consort, the Dance Exchange and two nights of the Seldom Scene.
"Admittedly, these are only one-shot deals," said Snyder, "and we have to dig up grants to help pay for them, but I think it's pretty high quality for a reasonable price, right in McLean's backyard." He says it all using his now-I'm-going-to-sell-you-mouthwash voice.
In between the Big Deals are performances by the theater's three and one-half resident groups (the half is on provisional status), bimonthly films for $1 (April is Peter Sellers month), performances and flicks for kids (including an April Fools Weekend with magician Hal Diamond), films for teen-agers, a travelogue series (Denmark is next), a Sunday afternoon local performing artists series, and classes in acting, jazz, tap, Hawaiian dance, mime, clowning, belly dancing and puppetry.
Any leftover evenings, Snyder explains without batting an eye, the theater is rented to local civic and church groups for large meetings.
Most of this is paid for by a combination of ticket sales, tuition for classes, and a tax the Dranesville district of Fairfax County voted on itself that gives the community center three cents out of every $100 assessed property value. "So someone with a $100,000 home in McLean contributes $30 a year to the center," Snyder explained. The funds are overseen by an 11-member elected board of local residents and administered by Fairfax County. "I'm a Fairfax civil servant," Snyder said.
He is also a theater freak, a fact that shows up in the center's summer workshop series. There, kids of various ages can participate in three different classes--two of them for acting.
The McLean Jazz Workshop, a group of secondary school students who produce a big-band sound, meets all year. The 20 musicians go on tour for five weeks around the state.
Another workshop, for children 9 through 12, spends four weeks preparing the kids for an open house performance. Gay Hill, a former director at Glen Echo's Adventure Theatre, will pull the youths through folk tales from around the world in a program titled (obscurely) "Import-Export" and then combine the tales for the performance.
But the jewel in Snyder's crown is the performance produced by his Teen Theatre Workshop, which took an honorable mention last year from the Association of College, University and Community Arts administrators. This summer marks the second year of the $175, four-week course for teen-agers that teaches everything from set design and makeup to acting, stage managing and selling tickets.
Tony Award-winning set designer John Lee Beatty, a friend of Snyder's from summer stock days, will conduct a youth workshop on his art, followed by a master class in makeup from Bob Kelly and one in acting to be taught by a couple of actors Snyder has yet to hook. The kids also will see two live performances before giving their own show.
"We had over 60 kids try out for 35 slots last year," said Snyder with a wide grin, "and we expect more this year. So we're making the auditions tougher."
McLean residents get preferential treatment in the tryouts--as they do in all Alden Theatre activities. Classes cost less if you live in McLean, and performing groups in the Dranesville district are entitled to apply for resident status. The status--granted to those who have "proved themselves in the community," as Snyder puts it--gives the groups free rehearsal space and a low-cost rental of the theater for performances, as well as support in selling tickets, organizing fund-raisers and advertising events.
Three groups--the McLean Ballet, McLean Theatre and McLean Chamber Orchestra--have received and renewed the two-year status. Another--the Mid-East Dance Group, which grew out of classes offered at the center--has been granted a provisional, one-year status this year.
Snyder, who was instrumental in setting up an application and review process for the resident status, hopes to see more groups applying to round out what he calls the theater's "cohesive, eclectic offerings."