By Randy Arrington
STANLEY — When Patrick Burns bought a half-acre plot between Honeyville Avenue and the Stanley Fire Hall more than a decade ago, it had eight structures on it, including some old chicken coops. However, it also contained a 1920s theater that previously showed old westerns and war films on Main Street. Burns wants to bring that old theater back to life and provide an educational and cultural center for the community.
In 2010, Burns moved into the white house at the corner of the fire hall parking lot and for several years rented the brick building at the corner of Honeyville and Main to the Stanley Flower Shop. However, his main focus (sitting behind the flower shop) would be delayed for a few years until the economy recovered from the Great Recession, “which was not the time to gamble $100,000 bucks.”
In the last two years, Burns has invested more than six figures of his own funds to renovate the old venue, now known as the Daughter of the Stars Theater and Cultural Center.
The wooden floor boards inside are original and behind a piece of paper taped over it to protect it, reads a notation on the wall — probably scribed by a builder of the times — dated Nov. 25, 1926. The inscription will be put under glass in the future. The stage and the mural behind it are new, and the balcony was added because “any theater worth its salt must have a balcony,” according to Burns.
The Theater “is to be a premier, integrated, educational cultural and entertainment center in the Shenandoah Valley,” according to the venue’s website.
Burns said his interest in the “old days” and the arts were developed while obtaining a bachelor’s degree in History from Towson University, with a minor in music. Prior to relocating to Stanley, he worked in construction and banking, and lived just outside Baltimore. His past success now allows him the opportunity to explore his interests in a way that can also benefit the community.
“There is a massive amount of history and culture all throughout the Valley and a lot of it is what made America what it is today,” Burns said of his reasons for coming to Page County. The Theater also produces historical documentary films like “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” The story of enslaved people escaping bondage was released around the “Juneteenth” holiday in 2022 and was viewed more than 13,000 times in just 10 days.
“There is a rich history around the theater and the magnificent surrounding countryside that paints the picture of American culture and history,” the website states. “Our primary focus is to explore and bring to a wider audience the rich, diverse, history, music, art, and cultures of the Shenandoah Valley in an entertaining and respectful way.”
Burns first invested in Page County about a quarter century ago when he started a cabin rental business, known as Skyline Hideaway, on Tanner’s Ridge near the Shenandoah National Park. He fell in love with the area, particularly its rich history, and he couldn’t wait to tell those stories. “Tribes of the Shenandoah Valley” is an 8-minute video on his YouTube channel “Shenandoah Stories” (below) that has received more than 30,000 views.
Burns gets technical help with video production from George Ruch of Philadelphia, who worked 30 years with the QVC channel and other television productions.
While some grants for the arts has helped, and will continue to help, with programming and some equipment, there’s a financial challenge to running a theater with a seating capacity of only 94.
“I recognize that it will be difficult to keep the theater open by itself,” Burns said, noting he was “developing several revenue streams.” He says his “boutique theater” will be part of a bigger vision, which includes the YouTube channel above, as well as one featuring musical performances at the Theater called “Shenandoah Stage.”
“To keep it going, you need something else feeding into it,” Burns said. He mentioned that there may be more he could do with his property that could fit into those plans, but he would not comment further at this time. Let’s just say some of those plans have been brewing since the Stanley Flower Shop moved to 320 Honeyville Ave.
The Theater plans to feature live performances on a monthly basis, with an expected slow down during the winter months. The upcoming schedule includes musician Kenny Day performing at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21. Tickets are $20 at the door and $16 online.
On Friday, Nov. 10, Page County native Putter Cox will be the featured performer during the theater and cultural center’s first fundraiser. A third event has been planned for Saturday, Dec. 9, with a performer to be named later.
The historic Theater at 186 East Main Street in Stanley has presented a litany of problems for Burns. The former Class A contractor has done everything from “pull the building in two inches,” to replacing floor joists to stabilize those old original wooden floors. Photos on the website show some of the transformation from a community center for pigeons, to a cultural center for humans.
“We want to grow from where we are, and we have more plans,” he said. “If get to where we want to be, we have plans for $60,000 in lighting alone.”
The six-phase renovation and construction plan that Burns has developed for his property is only at the end of Phase II “and now entering Phase III,” he said. The outside of the Theater’s original door (which faces Honeyville Avenue) will serve as one of two marquees — the other facing Main Street. Artist have begun signing a board placed over a large window to block out the light.
Burns hopes the small setting will provide an intimate environment that audiences will appreciate, potentially leading to interaction with the performers themselves. He sees his non-profit helping both artists and the community “engage, educate and inspire” — and livestreams and YouTube videos will open up the doors of this small theater to the world.
“We want everyone involved that can get involved,” Burns said. “It’s as much a journey as a destination…It’s never going to be finished if we do it well.”
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