At first sight, the StageCoach Theatre is an unassuming black box theatre located in an office building. However, you’d be surprised at all that this theatre company offers, and how it transforms both itself and its audiences with each performance.
There’s Murder Afoot
A staple of StageCoach Theatre Company (STC) is its Murder Mysteries. All original works, with many written by co-owner/artistic director Terry Smith, the mysteries take patrons on a hilarious tongue-in-cheek journey through a series of clues to solve a murder. There are three styles of murder mysteries, with each involving audience participation: a two-person show driven by the audience suggestions; a performance-based show with actors; and a private party show where every attendee gets a role.
Performances to Catch
“We do about five Main Stage Shows, three murder mysteries and two Cabarets a year,” Smith said. In-house shows offer both fully-catered dinner shows and non-dinner shows, and murder mysteries are available for private parties or off-site events like corporate team building.
The third Friday of each month, catch the StageCoach Bandits for a rip-roaring improv show, similar to the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway.” The Bandits perform short-form improv skits using audience suggestions and no show is ever the same twice. Or check to see when the next musical Cabaret will be held. I hear they may even be adding Magic Shows to the roster of events.
Kids & Teens
“Our after-school classes coach children in how to act, sing, and mount a production, either in private or group lessons,” Smith explained. “In interactive classes, the kids get to evaluate and critique each other’s performances with guidelines from the instructor.”
Summer camps are also popular, held 9 am-3 pm Monday through Friday. Throughout the week, children create a fully-staged performance and on Friday afternoon and Saturday, perform it for parents and friends. “There is a different class each week,” Smith added. “They might do Broadway, Disney or Sondheim music, along with some non-musical and improv or acting classes.”
New this year are Princess Tea Parties where actors dress up as characters to entertain as guests enjoy tea and a light fare. The theatre space is available for rent and often hosts birthday parties, corporate events, bridal showers and even wedding receptions.
Classes and Workshops
StageCoach Theatre Company offers a wide variety of workshops and classes to help you prepare for an audition, learn improv or voice-over techniques, or understand lighting and sound engineering, for example. It even offers singing and acting lessons, as well as classes on how to become an actor as a business.
“We do a lot of improv and theatre games for corporate team building,” Smith said. “Either a group comes into the theatre or we go onsite to work with them on building trust and communications skills by setting up scenarios they have to work through. We often use murder mysteries designed so that no one person can solve it on their own. Participants have to talk and communicate with each other to solve the problem.”
“Our business model is composed of three service pillars: entertainment, education and production. But the real impetus behind our theatre company is to support the arts,” Smith said. “We want to offer a place for young people and those working on their craft to go and a resource to help them find their way.”
“One thing that frustrates me is that the local papers cover sports for high school kids but have nothing supporting their arts. Part of our mission is to get the arts recognized. As a service, we like to help support our local high schools by offering the kids rehearsal space and opportunities to showcase their talents and obtain scholarships.”
The StageCoach Foundation
The owners formed the StageCoach Foundation (a 501c3) to provide scholarships for summer arts programs offered anywhere Loudoun County so that more children might benefit. For more details, or if you’d like to donate, contact STC.
How STC Was Formed
StageCoach Theatre Company was formed with a partnership between Terry Smith and Jerri Wiseman, the company’s co-owner and executive producer. A third partner, April Bridgeman, joined the team recently and serves as theatre manager.
“When I first moved to this area in 1989, my wife was a costume seamstress. I accompanied her to the theatre one day and they told me they were short on men for an upcoming performance and cast me in a small part in Dracula. Well, I got the acting bug and worked in community theatre for about 20 years. Then I started writing one-act and full-
length plays that the local theatre would mount. Jerri was cast in one of my plays.”
When Wiseman heard that Smith was selling his scripts online, she approached him about starting a business for the local community. That was in 2011. They decided they wanted to fill two niches they thought were missing in Loudoun County: murder mysteries and dinner theatre.
“At first, we were a traveling troupe, hence the name StageCoach that represented that we were mobile. We did only a couple of shows a year—mostly murder mysteries and children’s shows—then added Cabarets and Music Revues.” The company still takes the show “on the road” occasionally, performing at area wineries, restaurants and private events. The first murder mystery performed on its own stage was in October 2017.
In its first year in operation, STC was named a finalist for the Loudoun County Small Business of the Year, and won the award for Tourism and Entertainment the second year. It continues to receive accolades from the community.
STC is considered a semi-professional theatre company, hiring professional and non-professional actors. Although the theatre is a for-profit venture, it operates on a slim budget and can always use donations. “And we’re always looking for volunteers!” Smith added.
Want to See a StageCoach Show?
Now that you’re “dying” to see a show at the StageCoach Theatre Company (a murder mystery perhaps?), you’d better make reservations. The theatre is small and the configuration and number of seats changes with each show. It seats only 70 at full capacity. It is especially important to reserve your spot for dinner theatre presentations, as they sell out early. Free popcorn is provided for non-dinner shows and wine and beer are always available for purchase.
When asked “Why is this your passion?” Smith replied, “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing people smile, laugh and have a unique experience they can’t get anywhere else.” So jump aboard the StageCoach for an entertaining ride!
StageCoach Theatre Company
20937 Ashburn Rd., Suite 115+120
Ashburn, VA 20147
All photos credit: Benjamyn Smith