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New theatres on the horizon

by Lenise Willis

With such big names as UNC Greensboro, UNC School of the Arts, Triad Stage and our longest running theatre, Twin City Stage, it’s easy to declare that the Triad is talented. But these big fish aren’t the only ones swimming in our artistic pond. In fact, there’s more than a handful of theatres we should keep our eye on and for good reason.

For starters, a museum may not be the first venue that comes to mind when thinking about the performing arts, but Greensboro Historical Museum has been using the art form for 30 years to bring to life its city’s literary history. In its annual production 5 by O, the museum stages five short stories written by Greensboro’s own world-renowned writer William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry.

This year’s production, running August 12-14 and 18-21 will feature The Rathskeller and The Rose, The Fifth Wheel, Conscience in Art, Tobin’s Palm and The Memento.

Local playwright Joe Hoesl owns a complete edition of O. Henry’s work and each year selects which stories he think will work best for the stage.

“Sometimes there’s a theme with his choices, but in every case, there’s a surprise at the end of the story,” said Linda Evans, community historian. “And you smile, even when you think you know what surprise is coming.

“Always a hit are O. Henry’s favorite schemers Andy Tucker and Jeff Peters of Conscience in Art—my favorite—and Tobin’s Palm takes on another of O. Henry’s favorite plots: the twists and turns of romance. They are all set in the early 1900s, at the height of O. Henry’s success as a short story writer.”

Accompanist Michael Greene will begin the show, playing vintage American music on the piano before a quartet takes the stage.

“Think Peg O’ My Heart, I’m Sitting On Top of the World, Sidewalks of New York type of tunes,” Evans said. Then the stories will begin. Each story lasts about 10 minutes and in between each story, there are fun sing-alongs.

“The sets are charming, not high-tech, and who could help but laugh when you see a silhouette of a moon moving across the stage to say ‘it’s night-time,’ or as you watch a bartender ‘pour’ a drink from a 2-D bottle of whiskey?” The show lasts about 90 minutes and includes a 10-minute intermission. For tickets call 800-838-3006 or visit http://5byohenry.bpt.me. For more information visit GreensboroHistory.org. Shows are at Greensboro Historical Museum, 130 Summit Ave.

YOUNG ASPIRATIONS TAKE THE STAGE One of our youngest theatres in the area is Spirit Gum Theatre, which was founded just three years ago by three friends.

It all began with Michael Ackerman, Caitlin Stafford and Rene Walek-Shepard wanting to do a production together; instead, they ended up founding their own theatre company.

“We were very eager to work together on a project, so instead of crossing our fingers and hoping the right show would come along, we decided to create the opportunity and put on a play ourselves,” Ackerman previously told YES! Weekly.

The theatre’s first show was staged in a cramped conference room in the Community Arts Café. “There was a fair turnout and the folks who came were enthusiastic to see more,” Ackerman said. Now the theatre is holding auditions for its upcoming fourth season, of which the first production will be Smudge.

The play, by two-time Emmy award-winner Rachel Axler, features a married couple that has just had its first child. While the father bonds with the little girl instantly, the mother has more difficulty connecting with what she not-so-fondly calls her “smudge.” Productions run October 21-23 and 28-30 at The Actors Group.

For more information visit spiritgumtheatre.com or find them on Facebook at facebook.com/spiritgumtheatre/

FILLING THE PEWS WITH PRODUCTIONS Another abnormal venue for theatre is a church, but that hasn’t stop Sedge Garden United Methodist Church from putting on a good show. The church’s program, run by Marie Denig puts on an annual theatre production as a means of community outreach.

It began in 2012 with a production of Godspell and has only grown since. This year’s show, Guys and Dolls, was their strongest yet, including beautiful costumes designed by Georgann Schultz, lighting designed by Mike Olson and fresh choreography by Ashley Hyers. The church certainly didn’t cut corners on the technical aspects of good theatre—which makes sense considering the director, Denig, comes from a professional theatre background herself.

Overall, the Triad is filled with motivated minds and talented hands, making this area a constant growth of entertainment. Other theatres to keep an eye on include Open Space Café Theatre, which never seems to give up in the face of financial challenges, as well as Greensboro Storybook Theatre, which has actually been running for more than 20 years, adapting fairytales for young audiences. !

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