By Nanette Levin, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Logos Theatricus Productions, Inc. began as a single production put on by Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church in Roanoke. Today it’s an independent 501(c)3 that boasts attendance of 450-500 people per showing (usually three or four during each run) and casts that have exceeded 80 people. Their mission is to entertain, educate and enhance people’s lives while raising money for local charitable organizations.

The idea of establishing a theatre company was the brainchild of Larry van Deventer and Daniel Keeley along with other founding company members including Nancy Cortes and Patrick Kennerly. These individuals brought theatre teaching, musical expertise, costume design and professional New York theatre experience to the mix.

In 2008 the group incorporated as a non-profit and formed a board. Productions are generally annual, with ten having been performed since inception. These shows are offered to the community with no admissions charge. Over the years, shows have raised over $50,000 for local charities (donations from attendees are requested).

The organization is still closely tied to Our Lady of Nazareth (OLN). Performances often take place in the 600 seat OLN Nave. Larger productions have been scheduled at William Fleming High School and Jefferson Performing Arts Center in Roanoke.

Keeley, who, along with other company members organizes productions, serves on the OLN staff as Director of Music Ministries in a job he’s held since 1993. Parishioners and the general community support shows as Board members, directors, actors and volunteers before and during the events, working together to make these productions successful.

According to Keeley, the impetus behind forming a separate theatre company was to extend reach further throughout the Roanoke Valley to attract a diverse range of people to casting calls and also a wider spectator audience.

Logos Theatricus is self-funded. Donations collected are often given to aid local organizations thematically linked to the production. The theatre Board of Directors selects the charity recipient prior to opening night of the performance. A percentage of funds gathered is set aside as seed money for the next event. Most of the production staff and Board are volunteers, but some money is needed to pay for rights to theatrical works, materials for set construction and occasionally, musicians.

Some productions have included Children of Eden, penned by Stephen Schwartz who is the creator of Godspell and Wicked (six shows at William Fleming in 2007 and three repeat performances at the Jefferson Center in 2008). This is a musical based on the first nine chapters of the book of Genesis. They Chose Me!, by Michael Colby and Ned Paul Ginsburg, a musical about foster care and adoption and The Triangle Factory Fire Project, by Christopher Piehler and Scott Evans have also been featured.

The Song of Mark, by liturgical composer Marty Haugen, was the most recent production, performed during November of 2016. The play included three showings that raised close to $10,000.

The Dr. Robert L.A. Keeley Healing Arts Program, affiliated with Carilion Clinic, is an initiative that integrates literary, performing and visual art experiences to help patients heal from more than just physical symptoms. This enterprise benefitted from The Song of Mark audience support. This was fitting, given the musical’s healing themes.

Madonna House, Acts 2 Ministries, Roanoke Rescue Mission, West End Center, Roanoke Area Ministries, Family Promise of the Roanoke Valley, Kids ‘N Krisis and the Children’s Home Society of VA are other charities that have been selected as proceed recipients. As another example of giving tied to the performance theme, They Chose Me! donations collected were earmarked for local adoption services agencies.

Since OLN will be undergoing a large renovation project beginning in June that includes the Nave, the next production there is planned for the spring or Lenten season in 2018. Other earlier options being considered by the Board include a smaller production in the fellowship hall or a scaled-down traveling theatre company.

Like Winter Waiting, written by John Foley, a Jesuit priest, was selected for the first production in 2003 with an encore performance in 2004. As an Advent story, this seemed an ideal choice to set the tone for Christmas. Patrick Kennerly, a founding company member, was called to play Zachariah in this initial performance. He was also the Director of The Song of Mark.

Kennerly recalls the origins of the of corporate name selection. “(We) wanted to be a spiritual ecumenical company. The focus of the work is on meaningful theatre that speaks to people and has a message,” he states. Kennerly comes from a seminary background and notes that Logos, with Latin and Greek roots, is a term used frequently in priest circles, meaning “the essence of what a thing is.” He explains, “Don’t think of God as genderless, think of God as genderful – God is all and so much more,” he says. “The name seemed to capture what we wanted to be about . . . with plays that touch the spirit and touch the community with hope,” he states, referencing the decision behind Logos Theatricus (Theatre of the Word Productions).

Keeley reflects on a number of plays, including The Triangle Factory Fire Project performed in 2011, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of a fatal fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. “We might do works that aren’t necessarily religious – the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire was the only drama we did to date, other than musicals, that really drew attention to the injustice of the Shirtwaist Factory owners and how they treated their workers and how safety was not a concern, how these people burned and jumped.”

Casting calls for all productions go out to the entire community. OLN parishioners respond enthusiastically to fill roles. Keeley notes “It really is a community event any time we do a show and a lot of it is a leap of faith.”

For Logos Theatricus current news or to learn more about the history of this initiative, visit http://www.oln-parish.com/logos-theatricus/ or call Dan Keeley at (540) 556-3918 or Patrick Kennerly at (540) 525-0994.