‘Valley girl’ brings outdoor Shakespeare production to W.Va.

Shaniqua Juliano

BELLE, W.Va. (AP) — Cathy Deobler, artistic and managing director for the BlackRoot Theatre Company, said she didn’t quite make it as a star of the stage and screen in Hollywood. Speaking over the phone from her home in Belle, the California native said, “I do not have the body […]

BELLE, W.Va. (AP) — Cathy Deobler, artistic and managing director for the BlackRoot Theatre Company, said she didn’t quite make it as a star of the stage and screen in Hollywood.

Speaking over the phone from her home in Belle, the California native said, “I do not have the body type or the youth to become a star, so I turned my intentions toward directing.”

Deobler, who opened an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” Friday night at the BlackRoot Theatre in Belle, made her living as a schoolteacher and ran a small community theater company for children in the Los Angeles area for a while, but retirement loomed.


She wanted to open her own theater and run a theater company that would mount full-scale productions that included shows for more mature audiences, but LA was crowded.

There were a lot of theaters and theater companies.

“LA was really saturated, and California was just so expensive,” Deobler said. “Then I met a guy on a movie set.”

The man told her his company was planning to open a factory in a small West Virginia town. Community outreach was part of the company’s profile and he was interested in doing a theater program.

She said he told her, “I’m an artistic person. I act. I sing. I dance, but I don’t want to run the place.”

Deobler laughed and said, “Hello!”

On the basis of that conversation, she moved east from California to Belle.

“Now, I own a home and pay a third of what I paid on a mortgage for what I did in rent for a one-bedroom apartment in LA,” the director said. “Life is good.”

That was two years and two months ago, she explained.

After she got to West Virginia and got settled, she began working on her theater company. She did a couple of children’s productions at the London Community Center and then debuted her first regular theater production, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” last fall. Then they began working out of a former Lowe’s turned Dollar General turned rough theater in the old Quincy Mall.

“It’s a work in progress, but we have 2,500 square feet and a huge parking lot,” Deobler said.

BlackRoot did a children’s holiday production and was working on “Alice in Wonderland” for the late spring when COVID-19 shut down their show and every other show in America.

For a while, BlackRoot waited to see what would come next. Meanwhile, Deobler joined the cast of the Alban Arts Center’s production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” a Shakespeare in the Park production in St. Albans.

The show was held outside. Cast members wore face shields and the audience watched from their cars.

It seemed like a good plan for her theater company in Belle. BlackRoot has a big parking lot, so the company cast for “Romeo and Juliet” and began construction on an outdoor stage.

“We’ve got an FM transmitter, so people can hear everything from their cars,” she said.

Deobler had high hopes for the future with BlackRoot Theatre. The community has been very welcoming.

“The kindness and generosity of the people here have transformed this valley girl into a Mountaineer,” she said.

BlackRoot Theatre Company’s production of “Romeo & Juliet” runs this weekend and next.

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