Amy Jorns has spent most of her free time this month building a dungeon in Springfield.
Most nights she's at it until close to 11 p.m., but this week she plans on working well past midnight if need be, because it has to be ready for tomorrow night. "I do it for fun," she said. "And I get to meet a lot of people."
Though a dungeon may seem like an odd obsession for an army information analyst, Jorns is not hanging out with ancient criminals in chains. As executive producer of the Springfield Community Theatre, she has worked more than 500 hours on next week's fall production of "Man of La Mancha," the musical version of Cervantes' "Don Quixote." Jorns seems pleased as the dungeon begins to take on the appearance of being old. Workers apply paint with sponges on plastic foam to simulate stone, and the set in the auditorium of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church starts to resemble a dank cell.
"We try very hard to create great sets and costumes, though it's a struggle with our budget," Jorns said. "We try to put on professional shows, trying to be as good as any theater in D.C."
Small commmunity theaters such as Jorns' face many obstacles as they bring drama, comedy and musicals to the suburbs. With well over 20 similar community theaters operating in Northern Virginia, Springfield Community Theatre seeks "to let the people living in this community have the opportunity to learn about theater and to enjoy what we're offering," said President George Christensen.
The Springfield group was founded in the early 1950s by three couples interested in theater. They originally held only play readings, but the group expanded and now has more than 350 members who pay $24 for the season. Some act, some help by handing out programs and others just watch. They are not funded by the state, and any other money is made through ticket sales and fund raising.
The group attracts actors from throughout the area, especially from the other theaters in the umbrella organizations, the Northern Virginia Theater Alliance and the Alliance of Community Theaters. "We get all age groups and all types," Jorns said. "Doctors, deliverymen, lawyers, mothers."
The hardest part is finding people to volunteer for the crew and production staff. The group recycles lights, sets and costumes regularly. They occasionally rent costumes and props, though they rely on other theaters for help. "We get very clever, too, changing one costume or set to another," Christensen added.
When not putting on plays, members spend time selecting plays and planning for the years ahead. Typically, community theaters choose well-known and -worn shows such as "Man of La Mancha." "We try to do shows that are challenging, but we have to cater to the area," Christensen explained. "The people here love big musicals; intense drama doesn't go over so big."
The group also has to work with the church that houses it. "They like to approve everything we do," Jorns said. "We tend to have a lot of foresight when getting into the more sensitive shows."
Sensitive or not, the Springfield group has been successful with its productions. Last year, for example, it won the Best Show award at the Alliance of Community Theaters awards for its production of A.R. Gurney's "The Dining Room," and won Best Original Show at the Northern Virginia Theater Alliance awards for Kathleen Dunn's "Happily Ever After."
All the effort to do this takes time and commitment, and that is especially hard in a hurry-up world. "There's a real satisfaction you get from putting on quality work," said Christensen, a defense consultant. "It doesn't seem like too much time at all."
For Jorns, there are other pleasures, including the camaraderie, the excitement and the challenge. Is it enough to spend her nights and weekends in a dungeon? "I love it," she said simply.