The Front Row Blog


5 Reasons to Sign Up for Encore’s Costume Caper 5K!

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We’re so thrilled for our first ever 5K run/walk and kid’s 1 mile fun run taking place on Saturday, November 5. Here are 5 reasons for you and your entire family to sign up for Encore’s Costume Caper 5K.

#1 Make it a Family Day! Enjoy the scenic W&OD Trail through Bluemont Park with activities including aMoonbounce, face painting, and children’s games throughout the morning. We have a 1 Mile Fun Run for the young ones and a 5K for those who want a challenge–there’s something for everyone!

#2 Get the Most Out of Your Halloween Costume! Wear your costume again or put your creative skills to the test and make a costume to show off on the real “run”-way! Prizes will be awarded for best costume.

#3 Get Active! Burn off those Halloween candy calories in time for the biggest fall feast, Thanksgiving!

#4 Sign Up Now Before Fees Go Up! Sign up today to take advantage of our Early Bird Registration, just $25! Prices increase after October 15.

#5 Support Theatre By Kids, For Kids! Help us celebrate 50 years of children’s theatre in the community. Your registration will support our mission to build a lifelong appreciation for live theatre by involving young people in all aspects–onstage, backstage, in the classroom & in the audience. Click here to register today.
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Interested in sponsoring this event? Click here to learn more.

Early Registration for Encore’s Costume Caper 5K is EXTENDED through Oct. 23


Runners and walkers of all ages are encouraged to participate in Encore’s first ever 5K Run/Walk and 1 Mile Kids Run on the scenic W&OD Trail through Bluemont Park on Saturday, November 5. Moonbounce, face painting, and children’s games throughout the morning.

Wear your costume!
Get into the theatre spirit and wear your Halloween costume during the race. Who doesn’t like getting one more wear out of that costume?

Click here to register today! Early Registration has been EXTENDED through October 23!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Event details:
7:00 am Registration
8:30 am 1 Mile Kid Run Start
8:45 am Fun Run/ Walk Start

Bluemont Park
(starting line near N. Manchester St. & 4th St.)
601 N Manchester St, Arlington, VA 22203
Click here to view the Costume Caper 5k Race Course

Remembering Richard Thompson, Creator of Cul de Sac

Artwork by Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson passed away on Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Theater is about telling stories, and I am happy to tell one about Richard Thompson and his family; the community of Arlington, Virginia; a wonderful children’s theater called Encore Stage & Studio; and in some lesser measure, my own family’s personal relationship with Amy and Charlotte Thompson, Richard’s wife and daughter.

This story begins, perhaps, in the 1950’s, when Richard’s grandparents lived in Charlotte, Michigan. My grandparents lived there as well, at that same time, my father having grown up on a farm a few miles away, in Potterville, Michigan. Many of my relatives still live there. I myself lived in Charlotte for a short period of time. In later years, after I met Richard, we discovered this common history of geographic origin, but found no evidence that our families knew each other in Charlotte. Still, it was an interesting connection to have. Not that many people are from Charlotte. Fewer know how to pronounce it.

This story begins, perhaps, in 1978, when, freshly graduated from Charlotte High School, skinny and naive, I enrolled at Michigan State University. It was there that I discovered the wonderful, subversive humor of the comic strip Doonesbury in the MSU newspaper, The Daily News. The Vietnam War was not long over and Doonesbury was still in a fever of anti-war sarcasm. My love for the strip led in time, to excessive admiration for Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and later, after moving to Arlington, Virginia, the whimsical, offbeat, understated humor of Richard’s Poor Almanac, penned by one Richard Thompson. I was ecstatic, enchanted, and delighted when Cul de Sac debuted in February 2004, as a Sunday strip. Calvin and Hobbes had ended a decade before and Bloom county six years before that. In that relative comic strip desert, Cul de Sac was an oasis of clear, cold water, and I drank every drop I could. It quickly became my favorite comic strip, hands down.

The insights in Cul de Sac were so keen, the wit so sophisticated and finely honed, and the characters so compelling, that there was just nothing else like it. I have heard jazz music described as playing all around the melody, but never really hitting it. Cul de Sac was the same way; minimalistic somehow, and all the more clever and powerful for what was not included, as for what was. I had no idea, at that time, that the creative genius behind it all lived on my street, 10 houses down.

This story begins, perhaps, in 2004. My daughter Reiss was in the first grade at Nottingham Elementary School, as was Richard’s youngest, Charlotte. The two of them were on an Odyssey of the Mind team – a competition that involved creative thought, and a play. Amy Thompson and I both volunteered to be co-coaches of the team. I had no idea at that point, how much of a role theater would play in my life for the next decade.

When we started talking to the kids on the team about the play, Amy quickly took charge. “She’s kind of pushy,” I thought to myself, not knowing the first thing about theater, and not knowing that Amy did. Teams involve practice, of course, and Odyssey of the mind was no different. It must have been the spring of 2005 when we had a practice at Amy’s house. I had never been before. I knew Amy was married to some guy named Richard, but I had never met the man, nor made the connection between my co-coach and my favorite strip.

As I was walking into the Thompson’s house, I noticed a familiar style of artwork on the wall. Dominoes started falling in my head. I stammered something unintelligible about the art. “Yes,” Amy said matter-of-factly, as if she had said it a thousand times before, “he’s that Richard Thompson.”

I was floored. Gobsmacked. Blown away.

I took my offbeat comic strips very seriously. I revered the man who created the world of Petey and Alice Otterloop, and I was standing in his living room. At some point I actually met Richard. There was not much to meeting Richard, because there was not much to Richard. He was such a slight man, and so quiet, that it was almost as if he wasn’t there. “Unassuming” is a word I have often heard used to describe Richard, but I think that’s wrong. Richard described the word, not the other way around. But as many before me have mentioned, the mild demeanor was merely a mask for a comic and cartoonist and social observer of epic, superhero, stature.

We interacted with the Thompsons as elementary school families will do. Our daughter’s played together for a time. We discovered that both Amy Thompson, and my own wife Amy, both had Beth for a middle name, and were both born on the same day. Amy directed Reiss in the 5th grade Shakespeare program at Nottingham. Then the world moved on, our daughters went to different middle schools, and I did not see Amy or Richard as much for a while.

This story begins, perhaps, in 2008, when Reiss was cast in her first show at Encore Stage and Studio. As a parent volunteer, I watched, and looked, and learned, and decided that Encore was a fantastic organization. There were great people, it produced a wonderful product, and it was a safe place for people like my daughter to learn leadership, poise, and teamwork, not to mention an incredible amount about theater. In 2009, I was invited to join the Board of Directors. It was there that I ran across Amy Thompson again. Unbeknownst to me, she had been a long time theater instructor for Encore.

At that time, Encore was somewhat static. It needed a boost to push it to the next level. That boost came when we hired Sara Duke as our first Executive Director. That same year, I become the President of the Board of Directors. Together, Sara and I led an effort to transform Encore into a larger, more vibrant organization. Over the next several years, our budget tripled, we added more staff, more programs, and more benefits for our employees. We matured as an organization, and set our sights on the next step: commissioning plays and presenting world premiers. Our vision, after all, was for Encore to be a national leader in children’s theater.


Amy’s role expanded as Encore did. She began to direct shows for Encore. She started a Master’s program in Theater Education. Charlotte performed in an Encore show. Richard’s fame grew as well. He was given the Rueben award by the National Cartoonists Society. Look at their web page sometime. Rueben award winners are a who’s who of comic strip fame: Schulz, Keane, Larson, Watterson, Kelly, Capp, Trudeau, Johnston. They are all there. And in 2010, Thompson. Sadly, in 2012, Richard, by then suffering from Parkinson’s disease, had ended Cul de Sac. Sad for comic strip fans. Doubly sad for Arlingtonians, as we saw one of our suffering.

As is often the case, the suffering was the fertile ground from which grew the next great thing. The paths of Richard, Amy, and Encore were about to cross in a phenomenal way.

This story begins, perhaps, around 2014. Encore was ready to stage a world premiere. Richard’s strip had ended as a daily event, but lived on in books, a documentary, and the work of Team Cul de Sac to raise money for the Parkinson’s Foundation. Amy was turning Cul de Sac into a play for her theater degree. It became clear that a collaboration was in order.

In June of 2016, Encore staged the world premiere of Cul de Sac to rave reviews. It was a remarkable milestone for a local children’s theater. Not just a world premiere, but of a play based on a nationally syndicated comic strip, created by one of our own Arlington residents. It was a triumphant debut as a playwright for Amy Thompson. And Richard, before he passed away, was able to see the world he created come to life at the hands of his talented wife. Sara Duke and I were proud to have had a small role in developing Encore into an organization that had the vision and capability to present the play.

Encore Stage & Studio's Cul de Sac opens through June 12 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre.

Petey's toad zombies come to life.

This story ends, perhaps, . . . never. Richard has left us. That much is true. But he left behind the special world of Cul de Sac, his comedic genius come to life in wobbly brush strokes. Amy’s rendition for the stage will hopefully live on, in children’s theaters across the country. And certainly the love Richard had for his family will burn brightly in their hearts forevermore.

Farewell Richard. You were, and remain, one of my heroes. Condolences from my family to yours.

From left to right: Mr. Otterloop (Henry Hubbard), Alice (Gabriella Flanagan), Petey (Xander Tilock), and Mrs. Otterloop (Caitlyn Knittig).

On behalf of the Board of Directors and the staff of Encore Stage and Studio, Rest in Peace. We are so happy that your family connected with ours. Because in a real way, your family is ours.


This is a story about community, and family, and neighborhoods, and an unassuming cartoonist changing the world, and a precocious 4 year old named Alice. And that story never ends.

Alice Otterloop is played by Gabriella Flanagan.

The family has asked that contributions be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation in Richard’s memory.To donate to Team Cul de Sac, to help the fight against Parkinson’s Disease, click here.

By Jerry Gidner, Encore Stage & Studio Board of Directors, Former Board President of Encore Stage & Studio 2012-2015. Photos by Larry McClemons.

Mary Poppins on “Good Morning Washington”

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On July 12, 2016, Encore Stage & Studio was invited to ABC7’s morning show to share news about our upcoming production, “Mary Poppins”. Our very own Mary Poppins (Kaely Clapper), Jane and Michael Banks (Brenna Kay and Aidan Pritchard) kicked off the day with “Spoonful of Sugar” on Good Morning Washington! Click here to see the video.




Mary Poppins opens this Friday, July 15 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre. Click here to buy your tickets today.

MaryPoppins bannerpoppins-comes-to-gmw”>Click here to see the video.

3 Things You Missed at Rehearsal Last Night.

This is your Arts Management Intern, Hayley and I just wanted to let you know what’s up at Encore, specifically with Mary Poppins. Here are 3 things that happened at rehearsal last night:

1. Mary, Bert, and Mrs. Andrews stepped into their costumes for the first time on stage.
2. The actors flew over the stage to rehearse the challenging stunts.

3. We found out that the chimney really does work!

With opening night just a week away, the cast and crew are working hard to make the show perfect for the audience!

Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes New Songs and Additional
Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh

Mary Poppins is a practically perfect, spoonful of sugar nanny that unexpectedly arrives in the Banks household one blustery day. Using lessons disguised as games, she helps to teach the Banks children how to be their best selves. But, is Mary Poppins’ magic enough to save this family from drifting apart? Enjoy your favorite Disney melodies and watch Mary Poppins soar across the TJ stage in this Broadway adaptation that won seven TONY awards, including Best Musical. We recommend this musical for ages 6 and older.

Performance Dates and Showtimes:
Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 7:30pm
Fridays, July 15 & 22, 2016 at 7:30pm
Saturdays, July 16 & 23, 2016 at 2pm and 7:30pm
Sundays, July 17 & 24, 2016 at 2pm

All performances are held at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre (125 S. Old Glebe Rd. Arlington, VA 22204)

Ticket Prices:
$15 Adults; $12 Children, Students, Military and Seniors. Includes all box office fees.
Click here to purchase tickets online.

Meet the new Arts Management Intern: Hayley Olivenbaum

My name is Hayley Olivenbaum, I’m a rising junior at the best school on Earth, Virginia Tech. There I am studying Multimedia Journalism with a special place in my heart for broadcast. I will also graduate with a Political Science Minor and Marketing Cognate. At school I work as a server at an on campus restaurant, as well as the Business Manager for our yearbook called The Bugle.
I will be at Encore as an Arts Management Intern for most of the summer. As an intern I will be helping with the marketing plans, creating information about our shows, filming all of the productions and camps, and much more.
I do have a background in video production, such as filming and editing, and I am very excited to be able to use my skills to help make several promotional videos for Encore. I have a lot of fun ideas in mind about how to highlight all of the great things the Encore does, especially during the summer when I am around to see the magic happen.

I am most excited about just learning what I can about marketing, theater, and Encore in general. I hope that when I am done with my internship I will know the basics of what it takes to run a non-profit organization, as well as what goes into being part of a theater company.

Meet Encore 2016 Senior: Sam Barrett

Encore: What motivated you to first get involved with Encore?
I wanted to participate in a theater program outside of school, and I had seen Encore productions since I was very young. I also knew a few friends who had been or still were involved with Encore.
Copyright Larry McClemons
Encore: What was your first experience with Encore like?
I was given the role of the Goblin King’s Assistant in 2013’s The Hobbit, and also picked up the role of Essie the troll when one actress had to drop out due to conflicts. It was a strange experience wearing a goblin costume under a wig and baggy skirt, but a very fun first production.

Encore: What roles have you performed on cast with Encore? Which was your favorite to play, and why?
I have performed many roles, including Essie in The Hobbit, a turkey in Honk Jr, a pie-thieving woodsman in Big Bad, Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Dr. Watson in The Secret Case of Sherlock Holmes, and Farmer Stuyvesant in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. My favorite role to play was Dr. Watson, since I enjoyed the character interactions he had with Holmes and the various patients at the mental hospital.

Encore: Have you worked on crew with Encore? If so, what was your favorite position on crew, and why was it your favorite?
My favorite position that I’ve worked on was when I worked the fly loft in The 3 Musketeers, which involves pulling ropes that make backdrops and curtains rise and fall. I enjoyed this because it kept me active, and it’s an important skill to learn in tech theater.

Encore: Can you describe your favorite experience with Encore (What role or production, and why was it your favorite)?
My favorite experience was when I stage managed A Fairy Tale Christmas Carol, since it combined everything I had learned about acting and tech up to that point, and taught me new skills as well. I was very proud of the final outcome of the show, and I’m glad that Encore is continuing to run it in their next season.

Encore: What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I will be attending Christopher Newport University, where I plan to study science or computer science.

Encore: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned through Encore or theater in general after graduation?
I plan to continue participating in theater, though not academically or professionally, and hope to participate in or attend Encore’s summer productions. I also know that many of the skills I’ve learned in theater such as public speaking, adaptability, and working in groups, will aid me for many years to come.

Encore: Do you have any advice for this year’s rising seniors at Encore?
Try to make your last season with Encore the best season you can, not only for you but for everyone else involved too.

Encore: If you had to use an emoticon to describe your experience with Encore, what would it be and why?
smiling-face-with-smiling-eyesA happy face, since I am very happy with my overall experience at Encore!

Photo credit Larry McClemons

Meet Encore 2016 Senior: Annelise Coffin

Encore: What motivated you to first get involved with Encore?
They were doing a musical I loved and I had never done community theatre before!

Encore: What was your first experience with Encore like?
Incredible! I had a great time and met incredible people! I learned so much!

Encore: What are your plans after graduation?
I will be attending Christopher Newport University!

Encore: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned through Encore or theater in general after graduation?
Theater prepares you for any situation! I’m always on my toes and can just into anything and respond greatly!

Encore: Do you have any advice for this year’s rising seniors at Encore?
Enjoy every moment because it will go by fast!

Meet Encore 2016 Senior: Rosemarie O’Connor

Encore: What motivated you to first get involved with Encore?
I first got involved with Encore as a chance to audition outside of school and learn some new skills while meeting awesome people.
Rosemarie OConoor
Encore: What was your first experience with Encore like?
My first experience with Encore was with a great cast. From a little awkward first rehearsal we moved to being a close group of friends.

Encore: What roles have you performed on cast with Encore? Which was your favorite to play, and why?
The only role that I’ve had on stage with Encore was in the chorus of Once Upon a Mattress but, my favorite role was as the Arts Management Intern because I got to see all the aspects of what Encore does and how it positively effects so many people’s lives.

Encore: Can you describe your favorite experience with Encore (What role or production, and why was it your favorite)?
My favorite Encore experience was last summer when I had the opportunity to visit all of the camps and the Shrek rehearsals and take pictures to document what it looks like to be a part of Encore.

Encore: What are your plans after graduation?
I am going to be one of the Institutional Development Apprentices at Imagination Stage where I will be working with both the Development and Marketing departments.

Encore: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned through Encore or theater in general after graduation?
I plan on using my Encore life lessons in my everyday life. Everything that I’ve taken away from my time with Encore already has been applied to the different facets of my life.

Encore: Do you have any advice for this year’s rising seniors at Encore?
Take opportunities to try new things. Problems are problems; they’re just solutions you haven’t sorted out yet.

Encore: If you had to use an emoticon to describe your experience with Encore, what would it be and why?
downloadThe four leaf clover because I feel very lucky that I’ve been a part of the Encore family.

Photo Credit Larry McClemons