Chris and Ceci Galvin have led community young people into the world of theater since 2002
By Beth Luna
Great ideas are often born from unmet needs. As a teacher and parent at St. John’s Catholic Church in Warrenton, Chris Galvin saw a need for the community’s homeschoolers: the need for an activity to bring kids together for social activity and fun. A lover of theater who had participated in high school and college productions as well as community theater (where she actually met her husband), she decided to try her hand at starting a children’s theater group. The non-profit TORCH Drama Club was founded in 2002 with 25 children between the ages of 6 and 14 mounting their first production, a condensed version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Now, TORCH is a vibrant and growing part of the Warrenton arts scene, and is no longer exclusively for homeschoolers — all members of the community are welcome. As the group gained popularity, Chris was called upon to divide the club into age levels to accommodate the expanding number of participants. Now the group consists of The Embers (elementary school), Sparks (middle school), Torch Bearers (high school) plus a new, fourth age group for post-college young adults, the ACTS/Magic. All work at different tasks and times during the season to put forth the workshops and productions that make TORCH so special.
“As a parent, I always wanted my kids to have performance experience because I knew it had benefited me so much,” said Chris. In fact, all four of her children participated in TORCH, with her daughter Ceci starting out as a SPARK, then growing through the ranks to follow in her mother’s footsteps not only as the current Director of TORCH but as a teacher at St. John’s as well. “TORCH has shaped my life, really,” Ceci said. “I fell in love with stories and storytelling because of my time in TORCH, and even went into playwriting in college at William & Mary and after graduating. TORCH has performed many of my original plays for large audiences, which is amazing to see. Having a story that has been living only in your heart actually come to life is life-changing, and TORCH has given me that and so much more.”
Productions, as well as the popular monthly musical theater workshops open to all levels, take place at St. John’s. The high school-level Torch Bearers take on teaching, directing, and tech work during the year, helping to coach the younger kids. The school converts the gymnasium into a theater at the end of the school year specifically for the Torch Bearers’ big production. Each group encompasses 20-30 actors plus selected stage and tech crew. Movement from practice space to the theater stage takes a lot of strategic planning, especially when factoring in other organizations that use the school auditorium for various events. “We’re a large group, and space is a hot commodity for us since we ‘explode’ in any room we use with sets, tech equipment, costumes, and dancing actors.” said Chris. “We’re grateful for being housed at St. John’s, and they are very supportive of our shows each year.”
Several former TORCH members who started as middle schoolers (the Sparks group) and moved up the ranks have gone on to perform professionally, including David D’Andrea who majored in Theater and has toured nationally with a Shakespearean theater company. Rachel Yeager pursued her TORCH theatrical dreams to New York and joined a traveling children’s theater troupe. Joe Duca is an actor and award-winning screen-play writer in Hollywood, who talks about his start at a little community theater and even wears a TORCH tee shirt on his website.
A group of TORCH graduates reunited for a small production of Godspell last Christmas. Ceci and her sister Clare, both founding students, were part of the show. “It was a rag-tag group of family, old friends, and students who got to share the experience of this show,” said Ceci. “It was a very cool way to start the new decade.” The group rehearsed for a short two weeks before mounting the full production. “We were amazed ourselves!” Ceci said. “Everyone was so good, it was actually very easy!”
“Kids grow and age out of our main group, but they want to stick around,” Chris added. “And of course, we still want to include them. Christmas break is the perfect time for them to get together and present something – it is both a challenge and great fun.”
Chris explained that the best way for the community to support TORCH is to be in the audience for the shows and help spread the word. And volunteers are always appreciated; TORCH has supporters who help with costuming, prop donations, and concession baking. “We could always use help with constructing, transporting, and assembling large setwork onto the stage since we require portability for the productions,” Chris said. “Our needs change with each age group, so accommodating set designs and lighting without compromising the school’s facility takes much communication and teamwork. The success of this troupe shows that we’re all working together. We invite you to pick up your TORCH and be a part of this!”
Radio-Drama Workshop, September 19. This is slated to be an interest-meeting for high schoolers (age 15-19) and will focus on voice characterization and foley artistry using distance-spacing. Plans for a recorded radio-drama this season will be published if TORCH has a quorum interest. This workshop will be held at St. John’s outdoor pavilion on Saturday, September 19th at 7-9 PM. Entry will be at the back school-gate for $5 per person.
Information: Admission fees for events range from $5-$15. All ticket proceeds are funneled to local community causes and outreach, with past recipients including Fauquier Habitat for Humanity, The Pregnancy Crisis Center, Oklahoma tornado relief in 2013, medical funding for cancer patients, and St. John’s school for specific needs.
Participation: The program is open to anyone in the community with an interest in theatre. “Not everyone who participates in the productions is parish or school affiliated,” Chris said. “We are a Christian-based group, but we are also a community-based group, and our goal is to serve and teach any young person who wants to join us.”