West Virginia Public Theatre (Morgantown, WV)

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    Middle aged man on stage in a suit and tie with eight young boys and girls dressed in period outfits

Captain von Trapp (Ray Lutters) and Maria (Laura Hughes) sing along with the von Trapp children in the West Virginia Public Theatre’s 2006 production of The Sound of Music. Photo by Sue Amos/Infinite Lens Studio

The hills of Morgantown came alive in 2006 when West Virginia Public Theatre staged an NEA-funded production of The Sound of Music. An NEA Challenge America grant of $10,000 enabled the theater to offer deeply discounted student tickets for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical, which takes place in Austria on the eve of World War II. More than 7,000 children traveled up to 90 minutes by bus so they could see the show during the 2006 holiday season. The performances featured professional actors in the lead roles and children from West Virginia filling the ranks of the von Trapp family. Teachers were provided with a study guide in advance so they could discuss World War II issues with their students.

"That grant was a special grant," said Ron Iannone, executive producer at the theater. "We produced The Sound of Music and made it available to students who would normally not ever see professional theater."

The Public Theatre has been presenting summer stock drama in Morgantown since 1985. Back then, the shows were staged in a small tent theater in a hotel parking lot. Today, the Public Theatre presents plays and musicals at a theater on West Virginia University’s campus. Future plans call for the Public Theatre to share a new event space in Morgantown’s Wharf District. The theater serves as both an artistic ambassador and as an economic generator to the region. Theater patrons pump more than $3.5 million into the Morgantown economy each year.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)