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addition to their experience in corporate hotel management, Gassen and Jefferson were skillful at running their own theater company, Jeric Productions. With more than 20 years’ experience in all aspects of theater, the pair agreed to be the artistic and managing directors of the DAW project. The Cookes are in the process of transferring ownership of the theater to the DAW Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. With an initial $40,000 budget, the first phase of the DAW


project was to clear and clean the interior of the building, removing the seats while reserving some to be reupholstered and reinstalled, updating bathrooms, repainting the interior and reconstructing the stage. The intent was to start with a simple “black box” theater capable of success as a working venue — hosting profitable performing arts events and allowing for community projects to be staged as well. With a growing repertoire of profitable shows and an expanding cash flow, a second phase of improvements would allow for further renovations to bring the theater back to its original standards. Bolstered by fond memories of the DAW’s grand past, citizens seemed eager to participate, readily volunteered, and clean-up efforts were moderately successful. Progress stalled, however, when engineering assessments found that the rear third of the building, including the stage, needed some serious reinforcement to make it structurally sound and operational. The board has been advised that it will cost at least $250,000 or more to accomplish the task. “Without significant funds and community support, it’s going to take a lot longer than anticipated,” Gassen said. Lottsburg resident Skip Tilley has been a trusted adviser to the foundation board. With a background in construction,


Courtesy of Casey Templeton Photography Casey Templeton Photography


Courtesy of Dawn Howeth


and theater experience, Tilley has been on hand to guide the board through the technical aspects of the renovation. He’s a valuable resource, having been instrumental to the Westmoreland Players, supervising and constructing the modifications to the lobby, green room, kitchen and restrooms of the Westmoreland Players Theatre. He also builds sets for The Lancaster Players. But without serious financial donations, the best intentions


can only go so far. The DAW Foundation is in need of a group of civic-minded locals seriously interested in restoring the Tappahannock icon to a semblance of its former glory. Fundraising efforts continue — events like cocktail receptions or “Martinis and Moonlight” (an outdoor screening of vintage movies in the garden of the Essex Inn), and a lavish Mothers’ Day Brunch featuring the inn’s gourmet fare. “We haven’t given up,” Ware said. “The board will continue to raise funds and make plans for as long as it takes,” she said. What the foundation needs at the moment, in addition to financing, is the advice and labor of skilled professionals with experience in construction, structural engineering and historic renovations. “The building is an empty shell right now; but you can


already see the potential of the place,” said Gassen. Artifacts like marquee lighting, art deco fixtures; film reels, cases and projectors; a popcorn maker; and a fortune-telling scale have been set aside for future display. “There’s no other stage space like it in the region. A refurbished, historic theater could benefit the entire area. It could provide a local anchor and change the face of downtown, adding identity and character,” he said. “Everyone still seems very interested. People stop us on the street and ask about our progress.” Most long-time residents have a story or nostalgic memory


of the DAW Theater — whether it’s a fond recollection of a first date, a family outing, or of secret balcony shenanigans. “That theater has a home in the heart of the Tappahannock community and the entire region,” Gassen said. “It deserves its time-honored place as a local landmark.” H


The House & Home Magazine 49


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