Silent auction supports Touring Theater Ensemble of NC

by Amy Kingsley

It is a low-key reception for an educational theater company marking a quarter century in business. The flyers and posters even refer to it as a ‘“Sitting Ovation.’”

The event is a silent auction fundraiser. In deference to the theme, all of the items up for auction feature a seated title. There are season tickets to the Carolina Classic Film Series, ‘“A Seat at the Movies,’” a couple of unframed photographs titled ‘“Sit and Look,’” and the marquee items, a pair of handmade chairs.

Supporters of the Touring Theater Ensemble of North Carolina have come to Mack and Mack to mingle (the auction isn’t as silent as the title implies) and nibble on goodies from area restaurants like Southern Lights and Bert’s Seafood Grille. Finery and fine piano by Buff ‘n’ T’s Turner Battle surround the philanthropic shoppers.

Their purchases will benefit a theater company that performs for schools, libraries or anywhere else they might find both receptive hosts and crowds. About 900 people have seen their production of ‘“The Life and Times of Fannie Lou Hamer,’” a biographical sketch of the civil rights activist, at the Greensboro Public Library.

‘“We really went out and brought in people who may not usually see theater at a place like the Broach,’” says founder and director Brenda Schleunes.

The ensemble has several plays touring the state, including ‘“Trickster Tales’”, ‘“The Life and Times of Fannie Lou Hamer’” and ‘“Star-Spangled Girls’”.

The crowd inside the classy clothing store consists largely of folks who probably have seen at least a performance or two at one of downtown Greensboro’s professional theater companies. Although some people have wandered in off the street, including Velma Gibson, a resident of Vieques, Puerto Rico who has her eye on a green and red necklace up for auction.

‘“I hope no one else bids on my necklace,’” Gibson says. ‘“I’m also going to buy a red dress to match. Or a green dress.’”

She tells me that she’s here to do the shopping she can’t back home. Her island, although beautiful, is short on amenities such as shopping centers, malls and bookstores. Gibson limits her browsing to smaller items; things easy to pack for the long plane ride scheduled in three weeks.

Battle is riffing on the Carpenter’s ‘“Rainy Days and Mondays’” despite the fact that it’s cloudless and a Sunday evening. But if the subject of the song is a bit incongruous, the sound is right on.

For some folks, this event will preface an evening of Academy Award watching. Others will likely linger past the auction closing.

Mack and Mack has an appropriate feel for a theater fundraiser. The display walls of the clothing shop terminate in trim about four feet from the warehouse ceilings, giving the space the feel of a set. Glass separates the retail space from a workshop in the back with rows of sewing machines and bolts of cloth in aqua and coral.

Battle is interrupted by Schleunes, who is making announcements and prepping the audience for an auction of the big-ticket items. Items on the slate include a pancake brunch, Thai meal for four cooked at home, and an hour-long plane ride. These items (all donated) net the organization several hundred dollars.

During this portion of the auction, Gibson ‘— the island dweller ‘— sets her sights on an item described as perfect for ‘“the person who has everything.’” It is ‘“A Seat in a Song.’” A winning bid will land her a starring role in a tune with lyrics by Schleunes.

‘“Oh, this is so cool,’” she says, as her $75 bid stands momentarily unchallenged.

Then a hand rises in the back.

‘“Oh, this is not so cool,’” she says.

The song goes for $175.

The two chairs, made with gold leaf and etched with French poetry, are last on the block. Although they are beautiful pieces of art, the $500 a piece starting price proves too much for all but one attendee.

Still, as I prepare to leave there’s about an hour left for folks to raise the bids on items displayed on cloth-draped folding tables. The bid sheets under wine tastings, manicures and chairs of every sort are filling up. But Gibson’s bid for the green and red necklace still stands alone.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at