When the cast of RAAC Community Theatre’s holiday production of “The Wizard of Oz” sets off next week for the Emerald City, they’ll be following a yellow brick road made possible by Linda Heimstra — and most of a gallon of yellow latex.
Longtime Nethers resident and artist Heimstra is one of many veteran mountain munchkins who work, primarily behind the scenes, to make RAAC’s ever-larger productions shine in the small converted church that is the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s theatrical home on Gay Street.
In her case, the work is behind the scenes but it’s also . . . well, on the scenes.
A longtime artist, interior designer and decorative painter — and singer, and occasional actor — Heimstra is RAAC Theatre’s holiday-production set designer. She probably has the longest tenure of all of RAAC’s essential backstage volunteers and workers, including all those costume-makers, lighting and sound techs, stagehands and — most crucial in a RAAC all-ages holiday play, especially one with a cast of more than 40 — kid wranglers.
And why does she keep coming back — spending as much as a month of afternoons painting sets for each of RAAC’s end-of-year productions — over these last 30-plus years?
“I do it . . . because I don’t want anybody else to do it,” she laughs. She gestures toward an unfinished section of yellow road, still brick-less, with her yellow-paint-covered brush. “And especially ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I just had to be the one to do that.”
Heimstra, who turned 60 this year, designed and painted her first set in Rappahannock County more than 30 years ago — for a production of “Peter Pan” at what is now the Theatre at Washington, across the street from RAAC’s space, “back when the hippies ran the Theatre,” as she puts it.
“Mich[elene] and Steve Hostetter had an art director who bailed on them, and they asked me if I’d do it,” Heimstra recalls. “I’d always been an artist, but it’s a big deal when you do big things.”
Like the years since doing murals, wood graining and faux finishing in high-end homes and businesses from D.C. to Rappahannock (including The Inn at Little Washington), Heimstra found she could handle big things. And if you’ve ever been to a RAAC Theatre show in which her work sets the scenes — for last year’s holiday production of, coincidentally, “Peter Pan,” for instance — you are already familiar with her unique and playful style. It’s equal parts broad brush, Q-tip detail and . . . magic wand.
“The sets are an essential part of a production,” says RAAC Theater’s creative director, Peter Hornbostel. “They define both the location and the spirit of the play, and Linda’s careful and detailed designs do just that. They are magical. We are truly lucky to have her.”
When she’s not standing, crouching or prone on the floor of the RAAC Theatre with brush in hand, Heimstra still makes her living in murals, fine art, faux finishes, decoration, repair and restoration and graphic design. Recently she’s started offering “house portraits” — which are, yes, paintings of your house.
“Specializing in all manner of creative endeavors,” her business cards say, much in the manner of a true renaissance — or Rappahannock — woman.
“I’ll do anything,” she says. “Somebody says, ‘Can you do this?’ — I almost always say yes. I can figure it out. Maybe 20 years ago, I remember when Howard [Coon, who’s also directing next week’s production] was doing ‘Of Mice and Men,’ and I got all the high school students to come and take gray paints and do streaky stuff for barn boards — and then I tweaked it up when they were done.”
One thing Heimstra says she always needs — especially in the final days before opening night — is extra hands. So if you think you might have one or two of those available, stop by the RAAC Theatre just about any afternoon between now and the end of next week, and make your way to Heimstra.
She’ll be the one in the technicolor apron, doing anything.
RAAC Community Theatre’s five holiday performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12 and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 13-14 at the RAAC Theatre (310 Gay St., Washington). Tickets are $15 ($5 for children 11 and younger). Reserve at raac.org (click on Community Theatre) or call 800-695-6075.