Beth SherkDrama has been in Beth Sherk’s blood since the first time she hung a curtain in the basement and put on shows when she was a child. She was a community theater actress long before she was a director, and taught drama for 22 years at Fork Union Military Academy. She has always been a writer.

“It is sort of an incurable condition. Theater is somewhat of an addiction for me,” she laughed. She is currently finishing a novel that she started when her son went off to West Point and ended up in Iraq. She has written other novels, including River’s Bend, which is available on Amazon.

Sherk tried to put into words the feelings she has for her love of theater.

“It is a unique, communal experience. Every actor, every crew person is necessary to the final product and even the audience has their part to play, for a play never becomes itself until someone is there to watch,” she said. “Theater has the potential to make people laugh at themselves and to think for themselves. Even if the play is less than profound, laughing and crying together is a bonding experience, a shot of good energy. I think it is a basic human need. Children play act all the time.”

The current president and the main director for most of the shows, Sherk has been with Persimmon Tree Players (PTP) for over 11 years but said she doesn’t feel it has been that long.

She talked about the early days of PTP, including her directorial debut of The Golden Goose. She recalled when they had a cast of children and adults and performed it three times on the hottest day of the summer at Fluvanna County Day in the picnic pavilion at Carysbrook.

“It was stressful but great fun,” she said. “We never once had the cast all together until our first performance.” This was her first lesson in a reality of community theater: that people have other lives and may have to miss rehearsals, but eventually come together. “It’s definitely a mystery how that works. It’s like walking a tightrope but you have to trust so you can sleep at night.”

Sherk’s passion for directing lies in the process of bringing something written on paper into three dimensions.

“It’s a treasure hunt and it doesn’t come into being all at once,” she said. “It requires patient repetition and at times unexpected inspiration from the muse.”

Directing is not without its challenges. Sherk discovered that communicating her impressions without making an actor feel criticized was sometimes difficult, because time was short and sometimes being blunt was the only way to get her point across. But she manages to do this with a deeper understanding, grace and humor.

“As a rule it is important to me that an actor feel respected and safe because they are so vulnerable up there,” Sherk said. “I know. I have done my share of acting but it is easy to forget when you’re watching from the shadows.”

Sherk also never expected to become president when Warren Johnson left PTP almost a year ago. She said it has been more challenging than she could have imagined.

“We have always had a pretty open group, receptive to ideas, so I never felt like I couldn’t help shape the agenda,” she said. “The difference now is that I can never stop being ‘on.’ When Warren was president, I could just get back to my writing and not think about things until the next play. Now, I need to keep the focus for what needs to happen next. Of course, as a director, I am always working on the play long before the auditions.”

Sherk has other ideas for PTP and is working with members of the Fluvanna County Arts Council regarding bringing the visual and performing arts together, including a possible art show at Carysbrook, so that audiences can view the work of local artists during the intermissions. She said they are still working out the details and believes it would add to the Carysbrook experience.

Sherk is strong on the community’s and PTP’s role as driving forces in the arts. Under her direction, they are continuing to give financial support to Jessica Harris and her Empowered Players, a children’s theater group.
“It’s important to foster excitement in the youth if living theater is going to remain that way,” Sherk said. She is also toying with the idea of creating off-season activities for PTP, including an acting improvisation class and organizing dramatic readings.

She sees a future for the performing arts in Fluvanna County.

“It’s bound to evolve. Wherever you have people, you’ve got creative juices flowing. It’s sort of inevitable,” she said. “We are blessed to have this beautiful facility at Carysbrook, and that kind of thing doesn’t just descend from the sky. It is the result of dedicated effort of many people over the years. We keep doing these types of things not just because we want to, but for many of us, it is because in some indefinable way, we have to. It’s part of our humanness.”

Sherk encouraged anyone who has never been to a PTP play to come see one of their plays sometime. She will be directing PTP’s next production, Dearly Beloved.

“You may like it. You may even love it,” she said. She invited everyone to learn more about PTP by visiting their website at persimmontreeplayers.com. “Onstage or off, we welcome new people.”