NextStop Theatre Company was established in 1988, under the name The Elden Street Players (ESP), as one of the very few municipal experimental theatres in the United States.
Most “black box” theatres at the time were found either on college campuses or in converted buildings of the inner city. The Elden Street Players “liberated” a warehouse from other industrial uses in November, 1988, when they staged “Freedom of the City” inside a bare concrete space. In the year that followed, design and construction phases took place, and through public funding from The Town of Herndon, The Virginia Commission for the Arts, and The Elden Street Players themselves, the once-industrial warehouse space was named “The Industrial Strength Theatre” and dedicated on October 19, 1989.
For over 25 years, The Elden Street Players witnessed that something special occurred when friends and neighbors gathered to watch a work of theatre together.
Just as the group shared many unique theatrical experiences with the community around Herndon’s Elden Street, the founders and Board of Directors believed the greatest opportunity existed in advancing the company’s art to the professional level and inviting the entire region to come discover what makes locally driven art so special.
Therefore, in January 2013, ESP’s Board of Directors enthusiastically hired Evan Hoffmann, a volunteer for more than 20 years, to lead an exciting new phase in the company’s life.
Rebranded and renovated, the company’s new name, “NextStop Theatre Company” sought to honor Herndon’s heritage as a W&OD railroad town, celebrate the location’s future on the Washington DC’s Metro system, and affirm the belief that any of the company’s future success is merely a “Next Stop” on the journey begun as The Elden Street Players.
The Town of Herndon agrees to use funds earmarked to buy a new dump truck to instead rent a space in a business/industrial park. The town partners with the recently founded 501(c)3 Elden Street Players to renovate the space. Les Zidel, one of the founders, worked with several people on the design, including Bill Oxley, Dave Fallen, and a lighting technician from Herndon High School. Together, they constructed a cardboard model which went to an architectural firm for final design.
After a year of construction and design, the space is opened and dedicated. There is no real stage to separate the audience from the players. The hybrid design combines the best of an open arena stage with the single direction focus of a traditional proscenium stage. The flexibility made possible by steep modular platforms specially made for the theatre’s seating allows every seat to be unobstructed. None of the 114 seats are further than 25 feet from the performance space; this provides for a feeling of “inside the set” intimacy. This makes the theatre an instant crowd-pleaser.
In the end, The Town of Herndon would allocate approximately $140,000 for the renovation of the 2,000 sq. ft. warehouse space. The Elden Street Players raised additional funding of $25,000 plus hundreds of hours volunteer labor to complete construction of the technical systems, chairs, painting, and other equipment (including the theatre dimming and distribution system as well as lighting instruments).
As the theatre became well-established and more complex production capabilities were needed, The Elden Street Players obtained approval from The Town to establish a “rehearsal account” for equipment credit. As The Elden Street Players purchased and installed the needed sound and lighting equipment from their organization’s funds and installed it permanently at the theater, the group would receive rental credit for their use of the theater. This arrangement became crucially important to the organization’s survival during slow periods, since during the first ten years, more than $30,000 worth of equipment was purchased and credited to ESP’s “rehearsal account”. The Industrial Strength Theatre was in use about 20 weekends a year for productions and another 15-20 weekends a year for set building as no other set building spaces were available in town.
The “backstage” during performances consisted only of a hallway on the second floor of the theatre behind the tech booth, separated from the audience by only a curtain, and accessible only by a narrow spiral staircase down to the lobby to make entrances and exits. The theatre lobby doubled as the wings of the playing space. Everything from prop storage, wigs, hair, makeup and costumes fit in a 4 foot by 15 foot space lined with mirrors.
Despite the extremely tight quarters, the company thrived, and they attracted top volunteer talent in the region. Producing lesser known works, taking artistic risks, and packing astoundingly large shows into the tiny space extended the company’s reputation.
From 1988 through 2006, The Industrial Strength Theatre warehouse unit was rented by the Town of Herndon from the owner of the Sunset Business Park. There was no paid staff, however, a Town Parks & Recreation supervisor was in charge of checking the physical plant and booking the space when not in use by The Elden Street Players.
In 2006, a real-estate boom influenced the owners of the leased space containing The Industrial Strength Theatre to sell off the individual units as condo units. The arts-friendly Mayor and Town Council of Herndon had been recently unseated by a group running on a fiscal conservative ticket. The resulting change in political climate came at the exact wrong time to ask the town to approve the expense of buying the space outright, when it had previously been renting it.
The Elden Street Players were in a crisis. Facing losing their theatrical home of nearly two decades, they turned to their patrons and community for support. Fortunately, a group of loyal patrons and longtime volunteers were able to devise a new ownership structure to save the space and permanently end municipal ownership of the theater.
Having survived and thrived despite a severe recession, tumultuous political environments, and shifts in public appetites for live performing arts, The Elden Street Players began careful long term planning to ensure the future of the organization. A major milestones included purchasing an adjacent warehouse unit to enhance production capabilities and increase the number of shows that could be performed annually.
In March 2012, The Elden Street Players hired their first paid employee, Matthew “Moose” Thompson. As Strategic Business Manager, Thompson was tasked with ushering the theatre into it’s next chapter. After overhauling aging information systems, business processes, and lobby he helped push forward the first major construction project in a decade: joining the adjacent backstage facility to the performance space.
In January, 2013, Evan Hoffmann was hired as The Elden Street Players’ first paid Producing Artistic Director. Soon after, at the helm of a reorganized and more nimble organization, he led the evolution of The Elden Street Players into “NextStop Theatre Company”: Herndon’s first professional theatre company.
By the end of it’s second professional season, the new NextStop Theatre Company had already received overwhelming critical raves, national press attention, and an outpouring of support from the community for showcasing a wide array of locally sourced talent, Broadway headliners, and educational programs relevant to the community.