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Historic Shepherdstown Church To Be Repurposed As Live Theater Venue

The Christ Reformed United Church of Christ in Shepherdstown, W.Va. under a backdrop of a blue sky.
The Christ Reformed United Church of Christ in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Contemporary American Theater Festival

A 275-year-old church in Shepherdstown will be repurposed as a theater venue after its final service was held earlier this year. 

The congregation of the Christ Reformed United Church of Christ donated the historic building to the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), which produces and develops new plays for worldwide audiences. 

Founded in 1747, the United Church of Christ is the oldest church in Shepherdstown. It held its final service in January after the retirement of its pastor. 

The church congregation had begun to see that there was a need to maybe move that building on to its next purpose,” CATF Artistic Director Peggy McKowen said. “And so they started talking to various nonprofits that they wanted to give it to. It really is a situation in which people just happen to be at the right place at the right time, overhearing a conversation.”

McKowen said she wants to preserve what made the church special to its congregation while making it a place for the community to gather.

“We met with the representatives from the church, and I had a long conversation about really protecting the integrity of some of the historical elements of the church,” McKowen said. “The stained glass windows, also with the church comes the graveyard and the responsibility of that. I think the church congregation felt comfortable that CATF would uphold the usage of the building with a great sort of responsibility and grace to maintain the things that were really valued about it.”

The church will be used as a rehearsal space in the short-term with plans to use it as a performance venue in the future. By using the space this season, CATF is able to accommodate their talent’s work more easily. But before it’s available as a space for live performances, renovations need to be made to accommodate future audiences. That includes new restrooms, expanded seating and rigging for lights and sound. 

One idea is to devise a system to block the stained glass windows for blackouts during live performances, while keeping them revealed for other events. CATF is currently planning on fundraising for the new additions. 

“It would be really, really amazing and wonderful if our season in 2024 could have a performance down there as part of the summer,” McKowen said. “Whether that’s truly realistic, we’ll just have to see.”

The renovated church will be open to the public this year for the festival’s Fall Reading Series, which presents readings of plays under consideration for the 2024 season.

This year’s CATF season will take place from July 7 to July 30.