Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

The news headlines today — a massacre of school children in Texas, war in Ukraine, fatal and nearly-fatal vehicle and pedestrian crashes here at home — plus all the political machinations that are, or are not, going on in Congress, make one want to crawl back into bed and pull up the covers. Today’s 24-hour media blitz makes it hard to get away from the cacophony and heartbreak, but that’s when one can turn to the arts for solace and re-set.

Fairfax County teems with talented residents, in visual arts, music, dance, theatre, poetry, photography, and more. Some of it is free, like the current photography exhibit by Connor Cummings, at the Mason District Governmental Center and the upcoming summer concerts in the parks. Others have an admissions fee, which simply is another way of being an arts patron. Providence Players is a current, and longstanding, example of community theatre that provides enjoyment for audiences and opportunities for playwrights, actors, and all the folks who, literally, work behind the scenes.

The Providence Players of Fairfax (PPF), founded in 1998, has emerged as one of the region’s leading community theatre companies, with 180 member artists serving more than 450 season ticket holders and 4500 theatre patrons each year. PPF’s home is at the James Lee Community Center on Annandale Road, an historic former elementary school that has been transformed into theatre space, indoor basketball and athletics, and many other community activities for all ages.

The James Lee Center originally was located in the Providence magisterial district but, as a result of redistricting following the 2020 Census, now is in the Mason District. The Center didn’t move; the boundary lines did, and I am delighted to claim PPF as a Mason District resident company. Given their history of success, I see no reason to change their name!

The final play of the 2021-22 season, “Playing Juliet and Casting Othello,” opens on Friday, June 10, and uses the Bard as the backdrop to examine modern issues with a multi-racial cast. Log on to providenceplayers.org for more information about dates and ticket availability. The 2022-23 season is in development and is expected to begin in October.

Providence Players is a member of the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH) and a member and grant recipient of ARTSFAIRFAX.

It launched the Theatre Community Inclusion Project to increase participation among new audiences, particularly youth and underserved populations, by providing free tickets for qualified patrons, a special free teacher and student preview performance for each production, theatre workshops for youth, and scholarships for college-bound students who wish to pursue theatre as a degree or profession.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, PPF turned a parking lot in Falls Church into a performance space “under the stars.”

Although virtual venues can work, most actors want to perform “live” for audiences, and the owner of The Italian Café in Falls Church was willing to give it a try. Health protocols were observed, masks and social distancing required and a PPF team painted squares that allowed 54 people to be seated on the parking lot for each performance. Creativity is the soul of theatre and the show must go on!

“Playing Juliet and Casting Othello” will be performed indoors, not in a parking lot, but the same creativity that led to the outdoor venue will be in ample supply, just as it is for any Providence Players presentation. It’s amazing what a couple of hours in a darkened theatre, devices off, and live performers on the stage, can do to provide that re-set, from the headlines that we all need.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.


  • Penny Gross

    Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov