Life is much more than time spent on the clock. In this series, we highlight the unique hobbies and volunteer activities of Mason's talented faculty and staff.
Amanda Snellings, assistant director of development at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, has been at George Mason University for just over a year.
Outside of work, Snellings volunteers with the City of Fairfax Theatre Company (CFTC) as the artistic director. Many of her Mason peers have also participated in productions by CFTC. “We had a professor direct our show a couple of years ago, and it was really great. Students and alumni have performed, and we’ve even had some Mason theater students teach at our camp,” Snellings said.
How did you first get involved with local theater?
I’ve been doing community theatre since I was 11. My first show was Oliver, playing one of the orphans. I’ve had the theater bug ever since. I studied theatre in college and pursued freelance directing while working in arts management at professional theatre companies to stay connected to my passion, most recently at Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C.
I returned to community theatre to get involved in productions creatively while advancing my development career. My passion and experience in performing arts made my role at Mason working with donors to the Schools of Theater, Music, and Dance a perfect fit.
What is the time commitment?
By far the busiest time of year is the summer. I direct the big summer musical with 50 people of all ages in the cast and another 50 involved between all the technical elements and live orchestra. It’s our biggest as far as set design, costumes, and lighting. We plan the production elements in January, hold auditions in May, and perform in July. The rehearsals span 10 weeks for about 12 hours per week. During the two weeks leading up to the show, I am at the theater every evening right after work until 10 p.m. and all day/evening on the weekends. It’s a lot of work but everyone is excited to be there together.
What has been the most meaningful or memorable experience you’ve had in this volunteer work?
The first musical I directed with CFTC was Beauty and the Beast. It was a huge technical challenge to figure out special effects like the enchanted rose petals falling at specific moments and the Beast’s magical transformation within 30 seconds without the audience seeing it. We also built a rotating cube set with four different scenes painted on the outside walls that then opened up into a huge castle interior. We were nominated for nine awards and won Outstanding Cast and Outstanding Set Design from the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH) organization.
How has COVID impacted CFTC?
We were in the middle of rehearsals for a production of True West meant to open in April 2020 with the Fairfax Spotlight on the Arts Festival when COVID hit. We were finally able to do the show in April 2022. In late March 2020, we started using Zoom and Facebook to keep our volunteers and audience engaged, doing online play readings and classes. We started an outdoor Shakespeare program to replace our summer musical when we couldn’t be indoors. The first was A Midsummer Night’s Dream staged with the actors always staying six feet apart as part of the storytelling. We spray-painted the lawn, creating household seating boxes 10 feet apart.
What has been one of your favorite productions from your time with CFTC?
This summer we put on Shrek the Musical. I always say the songs from that show are so much better than you’d think they would be for a musical based on Shrek! There were a lot of challenging technical demands that the script set out for that show, but all the technical elements like costumes, hair, makeup, sets and lights really brought the story to life. It was such a beautiful final product and we were really proud of it.
What do you tend to enjoy most of the production process?
I love directing because I am deeply involved in all aspects of the entire production; I get to be the guardian of the vision for the show everyone is working hard to achieve. I really enjoy working with the multigenerational casts and seeing everyone learning from one another, especially the younger kids. We always have a few families that participate together, sometimes even three generations in one show. My role doesn’t usually involve performing, but each fall we do a cabaret of musical theater songs, and that's the one night a year that I always get to perform—which I love, too.