Can a Community Theater Go Professional?

NextStop's Evan Hoffmann discusses his tenure with the troupe.

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With NextStop Theatre Company celebrating its 30th anniversary, I chatted with Evan Hoffmann, NextStop’s producing artistic director, to learn about the company’s journey.

NextStop Theatre Company’s Producing Artistic Director Evan Hoffmann. Photo courtesy of NextStop Theatre.

Founded in 1988 as the community theatre company the Elden Street Players, the Herndon-based troupe had a vision of being a unique kind of community theatre: one with a focus on bold artistic choices. For 25 years, the Elden Street Players were an artistic force in the DC area’s large community theatre community. The Players received many WATCH Awards for community theatre excellence and had an admiring audience base.

The theatre troupe also had an invaluable physical venue available for its use. It was a repurposed, once-industrial warehouse space the company named “The Industrial Strength Theatre.”

In 2013, the Elden Street founders and Board of Directors decided to move into the professional ranks. The theatre soon became a member of theatreWashington, the organization responsible for the annual Helen Hayes Awards, among other activities. Evan Hoffmann was hired as the producing artistic director for the newly rebranded NextStop Theatre.

Why “NextStop” for the new name? The name connected the company’s future achievements as a “next stop” on the journey that began three decades earlier as The Elden Street Players.

David Siegel: Why did you and the Elden Street Board decide to re-establish a community theater to become a professional theater company?

Evan Hoffmann: As the Elden Street Players began to approach their 25th anniversary season, a discussion began about what the future of the company was going to look like. Having personally been involved with the company for nearly 20 of those years, I wanted to see the company grow and accomplish even bigger and better things.

After working in the DC theatre community for nearly 10 years, I felt confident that western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun County represented the perfect location for professional theater to expand in our community. With such a wide range of wonderful professional theater in the community, it made no sense to me why the Dulles Corridor wasn’t represented.

What have been some of the biggest accomplishments?

Winning our first Helen Hayes awards in 2017 was certainly a milestone for us. It sort of validated that our work was paying off. But I really think that being able to look back at the quantity, quality, and variety of work that we have done over the past five years is what truly makes me most proud.

In the past five seasons, we have produced 45 productions and served nearly 100,000 members of our communities through shows, classes, and other programs. We have done joyful musicals, hilarious comedies, beloved classics, bold new titles, powerful dramas, and so much more. We have shown up, done the work, and brought joy, laughter, thoughtfulness, and even knowledge into our community through the power of theater.

NextStop’s 2018-19 Season. Photo courtesy of NextStop Theatre.

What have been some of the biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge has always been the fairly secluded location of our theater. We actually are in an amazing spot (geographically), being on the border between Herndon and Reston. But having the theater tucked in the back of the business park means people don’t “drive by the theater.” You sort of have to know where you are going.

It is our hope that in the next few years, we will be moving into a new theater in downtown Herndon as a part of a huge redevelopment project. For now, we just keep working to get the word out about the great work and encourage people to venture into the business park!

What can you tell us about the “average” NextStop patron?

By and large, NextStop ticket buyers tend to come from a ten-mile radius of Herndon. They are a part of our Dulles Corridor community. We aren’t actively trying to convince people from DC, Arlington, or Maryland to be our main audience. (Don’t get me wrong, we love and welcome them! But we are focused on our local community.)

I also love the fact that our average ticket buyer changes from show to show, based on what we are doing. We don’t necessarily get the same type of audience for lighthearted musicals as we do for new works or for our very popular family programs. We give our patrons options and choices so that everyone can find something that appeals to them and something that might help stretch them as a person.

Fairfax County has the largest population and one of the highest per capita incomes in the DC metro area with a broadly diverse demographic. Herndon is part of the Northern Virginia tech corridor. How does that impact NextStop?

The strength, size, and diversity of our audience is the key to our program. We want everyone to be able to look at our season and be able to find something that could have personal interest and/or significance for them.

We have a similar mindset when it comes to casting. We work very hard to demonstrate our commitment to diversity through our casting. Note: Fairfax County recently announced a major commitment to Herndon with funding for a new Herndon Arts Center.

What would you like NextStop to be in the next 3-5 years?

I love what NextStop is today. My dream would be in five years to be doing what we are doing today in a manner that reaches even more of our community and allows us to make greater and deeper investments in the artists that create our beautiful work. I really believe that we have the opportunity to remain one of the fastest growing regional theaters in the DC-region. The Dulles Corridor is the future of the entire region. We want to stay in and serve the heart of that growth.

NextStop Theatre Company’s  2018-19 season begins August 3, 2018, with their 30th-anniversary event, Amour. For information and tickets for the entire season call 866-811-4111, or go online.

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