By Lauren Jette
LEANDER — Tucked away off West Farm to Market 2243 in Leander near the back of a shopping center is a warehouse that houses the Way Off Broadway Community Players theater.
From the outside, it doesn’t look anything like a theater on Broadway, but inside is where transformations take place and characters are brought to life.
Paint cans of almost every color imaginable line one wall behind the stage. A collection of picture frames, luggage, doors and windows line another wall. Costumes of all colors, fabrics, and time periods hang in the dressing rooms.
The stage is set for a living room scene in front of 96 permanent seats covered in red fabric, ready to be filled with audience members.
This is where six shows a year, plus a summer melodrama, are practiced and produced entirely by volunteers for the enjoyment of the Leander and Liberty Hill communities.
“It is a community effort,” said Ron Revell, who is a volunteer with the theater and chairman of the publicity committee.
“It takes some time to do it. But then the best part is always opening night and the lights go up and the first time somebody cracks a joke and everybody laughs. Then you feel really good. Or if it’s a drama, and somebody comes out mopping their eyes, alright, alright. It was worth it. But it’s also fun.”
The theater has been around the Cedar Park/Leander area for almost 20 years, after the first season in 1997-1998 consisted of two shows, performed in the LEO Center and Cedar Park Library. Since then, the theater has found homes in an empty grocery store and an empty factory before landing in its current location, where it has been the last five years.
Revell said the theater has seen considerable growth over the years.
“The very first year, they did two shows,” Revell said.
“I think we’ve been on the schedule we’ve been on now for a little over five years or so. Then, the other thing is, which has been nice, is every time we’ve moved and rebuilt, we built a place with more seating. This location has 96 permanent seats and we can get it up to 120 if we need to. (The previous location) probably could seat about 70. The biggest way you can tell (we’ve grown) is every facility we’ve gone to is bigger because we needed it to be bigger. Our crowds are averaging better and better every year.”
Now, the theater runs two shows per weekend, for four weekends, plus one Sunday matinee, Revell added.
In order to make everything run smoothly from one performance to the next, the theater relies on volunteers.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers and we will train and you don’t have to be an actor,” Revell said.
“I started out being pretty typical, just coming out to the shows because I like theater,” Revell said.
“Then of course, in the bulletin, they’re always asking for people to volunteer, so I said, ‘okay, I could make popcorn,’ so I volunteered to make popcorn and sell tickets and they trained me on how to do that.”
From selling popcorn and tickets, Revell put his wood working skills to use, helping build sets, before also learning how to work the lights and sound during plays.
Much like the way he came to volunteer at the theater, Revell said most of the theater’s volunteers come from the theatergoers, and it takes many more than the audience might realize to keep the theater running.
“When you add all the people in for ticket sales and popcorn and all those other things, it just takes a lot more people than what you see on the stage to make it all happen,” Revell said.
“So the supporting crew is critical. Most of those jobs are ones anybody can do or we can train them to do pretty quickly, and the more they get into it, the more they learn and pretty soon, they’ll be training someone (new) is the way it works.”
A majority of the theater’s budget comes from ticket sales, but Revell stressed that donations are also relied on to keep the stage lights on, as Way Off Broadway Community Players is a non-profit organization.
Other ways the theater contributes to the community is through the local artist display in the entry area of the building.
“We try to get local artists to display (work), especially if we can find somebody who has something along the theme of the play,” Revell said.
“We’ve had displays of artwork from grade schools. We try to branch out a little bit beyond theater in art.”
Also, the theater will hold charity drives to give back to the community, when it ties into the plays.
“Depending on the show, we’ll do a charitable thing, like a canned good collection or used clothing or one that’s really been popular is used books. The people who come and donate get a free popcorn.” Revell said.
“We’ve also done things for the Williamson County Women’s Shelter. It’s not like every show, but when it ties in to the theme or something that’s going on (in the play) we try to make a link and to participate more broadly in the community.”
The first show of the theater season is “The Importance of Being Earnest” and is directed by Ed Trujillo. Show dates are Sept. 25 and 26 and Oct. 2, 3, 9,10 at 8 p.m. with a Sunday matinee on Sept. 27 at 3 p.m.
For ticket reservations, call (512) 259-5878 or go to www.wobcp.org.