Theater thanks public, free festival closes season

by Lenise Willis

As a theater columnist, I’m overwhelmed with press releases throughout the year — until summertime. This is the time of year when many theaters have wrapped up their seasons and are either already looking ahead to their fall productions or turning to a few summer children’s productions, camps and so forth. It’s a lonesome time.

But one theater that helped to fill the void of my e-mail’s inactivity was North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, which took a moment to say thank you to its community. I must say that this was certainly one note — a break from the typical sales push — welcome in my inbox.

NCShakes didn’t just write a thank-you card (or e-thanks for this generation); instead it invited its audiences and area residents for a free community day June 15 at their Spirit Center in High Point.

“It was very successful,” said Sara Butner of NCShakes, “It was a beautiful day. We had about two to three hundred people come throughout the course of the day, which was great — even more than last year.”

The second annual event not only alerted the young, aspiring public about this Saturday’s upcoming Dracula auditions, but it mostly was a way for the theatre to give thanks to the community that has supported it for more than three decades.

“For NCShakes, community day is one of our favorite events of the entire year,” said President and CEO Wil Elder. “It’s a day for us to throw open our doors and say thank you to the community that’s supported us for nearly 40 years.”

For three hours staff awarded door prizes, gave tours of the production building and manned a slew of festive games. About a dozen vendors sold crafts and handmade goods, while volunteers from Wake Forest University gave out prizes and manned an inflatable bouncy house and a game of football toss.

In the spirit of Shakespeare and fun, members of the theater staff also took turns sitting in a dunk tank and quipping Shakespearean style insults at gamers. For inspiration, the dunk tank had a built-in insult generator, which had three columns of common Shakespearean offenses.

“Shakespeare was really good at coming up with insults,” Butner laughed.

In addition to the petting zoo, donated Bruster’s Italian ice and other games, children also enjoyed an old classic: dress up.

“[The costume play area] was a big hit,” Butner said about the two trunks full of children’s costumes. “Even before the event started, the children of the vendors were already playing in it. It’s always fun to see how children are going to react and how they put things together — like wearing a pirate’s hat with fairy wings. It’s great because children don’t always get the opportunity to be so wide open and creative.”

Giving an educational twist to the fun-filled day were tours of the 38,000-square-foot Production Place, which includes the costume and scene shops, property storage and rehearsal halls. This gave visitors the chance to get a rare up-close look at the costumes and set pieces for past productions, like A Christmas Carol and Romeo and Juliet.

“People are always interested to see where our productions are built.” Butner said. “Part of our mission is to educate as well as entertain. We love to be able to teach people that get to see the final product the different pieces that go into it.”

Butner added that community day is not only a great way for the theatre to thank, educate and entertain its community, but it also allows it to better connect with the surrounding residents — whether they’re theater lovers or not.

“And we’re gearing up toward the first youth theater production we’ve ever done [Dracula],” Butner added.

The event was a fun way to advertise to teens and their families the production’s auditions on this Saturday, from 1-4 p.m. Anyone aged 13-17 interested in auditioning should call the theatre at 336.841.2273. Rehearsals are July 15-31 and performances are Aug. 1-2.