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Arts & Extras: Peanut butter, jelly and ballet theater

Arts & Extras: Peanut butter, jelly and ballet theater


Pat Wilhelms, founder of Roanoke Children's Theatre, talks about her newest venture, PB&J Theatre in Grandin Village

Roanoke Valley theater fans familiar with the career of Pat Wilhelms won’t be surprised that she’s launched a new theater venture featuring acting workshops for children.

When she had a parting of the ways with Mill Mountain Theatre after 10 years as education director, she went on to found Roanoke Children’s Theatre — now Virginia Children’s Theatre — one of the valley’s biggest artistic success stories.

In 2020, Wilhelms and VCT went separate ways after 12 years, and in March, Wilhelms raised the curtain on PB&J Theatre Co. in Roanoke’s Grandin Village.

“It’s all about connectivity and unity,” Wilhelms said. “This, we thought would fit right in, bringing another component to this great neighborhood.”

She’s quick to point out that her acting workshops won’t just be for kids. “They’re for everybody, K through adult.”

PB&J’s spread looks a bit different from Wilhelms’ previous ventures. First, it’s a for-profit company rather than a nonprofit. Second, it’s cast as a business partnership with Roanoke Ballet Theatre. When PB&J classes start in May and June, they’ll be held in RBT’s studio at 1318 Grandin Road S.W.

“Some of our dancers will teach ballet to her actors and she will teach theater to our dancers,” said Sandra Meythaler, the ballet’s executive and artistic director. “The goal is to do a production together in the future.”

Meythaler broached the idea to Wilhelms in January as part of an overall push to expand RBT’s offerings. “I invited her to see if she wants to teach some summer intensives for our students. I said to Pat, ‘We’re missing the “T” in Roanoke Ballet Theatre.’”

The dance and theater collaboration that Meythaler envisions likely won’t reach full fruition until a production of “Snow White” that RBT plans to put on in 2022.

However, Wilhelms will be helping out with some of the acting parts in RBT’s upcoming performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” scheduled to take place June 4-5 on Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Mainstage.

Wilhelms intends for PB&J to put on a couple of small Saturday morning shows of its own. The first, on June 12, will be “Fractured Fairy Tales” by “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” author Roald Dahl, and the American tall tale-themed “Golliwhoppers” by Flora B. Atkin will follow on July 24. They’ll be held in the amphitheater of Heights Community Church on Memorial Avenue.

“I’m introducing the fun of theater, and what it takes to be a good storyteller,” Wilhelms said.

PB&J acting classes and summer camps range from $125 to $150. Those enrolled in RBT classes can enroll in PB&J classes for half price and vice versa. For more information, call 309-3830 or 345-6099 or visit or

WDBJ pioneer remembered

A celebrity from the early decades of Roanoke television has died.

Kathy Plotkin died March 10 in New York City at age 91. Those who were watching local TV in the 1960s and 1970s would remember her as Kathy Thornton, who from 1966 to 1975 hosted a popular talk show called “Panorama” for WDBJ (Channel 7).

A freelance photographer and founding member of Showtimers Community Theatre, Thornton’s acting ambitions took her to Los Angeles, where she worked in commercials and had a small role in the 1997 thriller “Black Sunday.”

Later, under the name Kathy L. Plotkin, she wrote a 1999 nonfiction book about her mother, aunts and grandparents and their lives as homesteaders, “The Pearson Girls: A Family Memoir of the Dakota Plains.” She assisted Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton in the authoring of his 2008 memoir, “Opportunity Time.”

“I was a student intern mentored by Kathy — and thanks to her I embarked on a long journalism career, covering seven presidents and national politics for ABC News,” wrote retired White House correspondent Ann Compton in an email. Compton, the first woman reporter for WDBJ, went on to become the first woman to cover the White House full-time for a national network.

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Mike Allen is the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. His past beats as a Roanoke Times reporter included Botetourt County, Franklin County, courts and legal issues, and arts and culture.

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