Fauquier Community Theatre thrives in its 40th season

Comedic thriller ‘Deathtrap’ runs through Feb. 11.

Photo by Eliza Berkon

In the years after World War II, Vint Hill Theater on the Green provided a diversion for Army personnel at the Vint Hill Farms base, one of the hundreds of military facilities closed since the late 1980s as part of the Cold War-era Base Realignment and Closure Act. Today, the former movie house in Warrenton is home to Fauquier Community Theatre, albeit with refurbished seats, an updated lighting system and forthcoming sound enhancements.

“In many respects, we’re getting dragged into the modern world,” says Mike Markley, chairman of the board at FCT, now celebrating its 40th season.

Along with executive director Christie Clark, Markley has guided the production process of the theater for nearly four years. An engineer by trade, Markley also has degrees in painting and arts management, hoping to make the latter his pastime post-retirement. His entrée into the FCT community came when his daughter auditioned for To Kill a Mockingbird. He ended up in the cast himself.

“It’s a group that has survived some hard times and is in pretty good shape overall. They have done a good job of keeping the life of the theater happy and moving forward,” Markley says. “And not being in debt, which is the biggest kiss of death to most theaters.”

Though the fervor among Clark, Markley and current show director Scott Strasbaugh recalls the passion (with none of the idiosyncracies) of the community playmakers in the 1996 mockumentary Waiting for Guffman, there’s no need for a savior at FCT. The majority of community theaters, says Markley, generate 40 to 60 percent of their income from contributions. FCT, by contrast, brings in 85 percent of its income from ticket sales—a feat that kept them afloat even as the economy took a nose-dive in 2008.

Now through Feb. 11, FCT presents Deathtrap, a comedic thriller written by Ira Levin. In it, a playwriting instructor reviews a play from a student that inspires jealousy—and an invitation out to his home in the woods.

“It tackles the idea of ‘What would one do for the almighty play?’” Strasbaugh says.

The director—who not only works with area theaters but also has acting credits in commercials and films such as Zoolander—notes that FCT enjoys devotion from both its audience members and actors. It’s that dedication that keeps FCT vibrant, producing five or six mainstage shows a year along with summer theater camps, and selling more than 10,000 tickets last season.

Though the theater has a history of family-friendly productions, Clark—whose involvement with the theater spans a decade—says she is interested in also pursuing more “theatrically challenging material” and staging performances in the greater NoVA community.

With a feasibility study underway on the county’s ability to sustain a multimillion-dollar arts center, Markley is excited about the possibility of bringing FCT performances to an additional space 10 to 15 years down the road. At the moment, however, the theater isn’t “trying to be the Hylton.”

“We’re still having fun,” he says. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”

(February 2018)