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‘Bouncers’ an impressive opening act for Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts

by Keith Barber

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Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again, published posthumously in 1940, expresses a universal truth in its title. But Mark Woods’ acting and directing career has long defied conventional wisdom, so it’s not surprising that Woods is directing “Bouncers,” the opening act of the new Hanesbrands Theatre at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts Sept. 8-25.

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“I’m more honored than thrilled,” Woods said. “This is a very full circle for me. All the dreams that ever came true for me were watered by people in this community.”

Woods connection to the area runs deep. In 1975, Woods, a New York City-trained actor, arrived in North Carolina. Soon thereafter, he co-founded the NC Theatre Ensemble with Stuart Brooks. The duo collaborated on 17 plays over the next year and a half with all performances held in the Piedmont Triad area. In 1977, Woods and Brooks co-founded the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival and found the ideal venue in the newly constructed High Point Theatre.

In 1984, Woods founded Charlotte’s Repertory Theatre, the Queen City’s resident professional theatre. During the planning phases of the new Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, Woods was one of a handful of theatre professionals to consult on the design of the Hanesbrands Theatre. It was one of the rare times when the architects and designers incorporated the ideas of theatre folk, Woods said.

“We’re excited and thrilled by what this space could become,” Woods said. “I’m honored to come and christen something in that space.”

The 300-seat Hanesbrands Theatre was built on the site of the old Delco garage and auto parts store. It can be configured for any shape of staging and seating arrangement and contains state-of-the-art retractable seats with additional riser seating on the sides and state-of-the-art light and sound. During Community Weekend Sept. 11-12, the theatre will host more than 25 performances, everything from choral groups to jazz to opera to ballet.

The theatre also boasts Broadway-style green rooms and dressing rooms, an eye-catching public art installation and murals that incorporate the old Delco garage fixtures into the building’s design.

Despite all its amenities, the black box theatre presents a formidable challenge for actors and directors alike.

“It’s theatre in the rectangle,” Woods said. “None of us have ever done anything like this before because it’s not the round. It’s a question of re-imagining how you usually stage a play.”

On Sept. 3, Woods and his talented ensemble cast of Ben Baker, Travis Smith, Lee Spencer and Quentin “Q” Talley forged through a technical rehearsal in the new theatre. The rehearsal revealed the rigorous demands of the production, from the comedic timing necessary to pull off John Godber’s hilarious script about four bouncers in a 1980s urban discotheque in Northern England to the precise timing of the myriad lighting, visual and audio cues.

The challenge before Baker, Smith, Spencer and Talley is daunting, Woods said. The four actors must inhabit total of 30 different characters over the course of the two-act play. A challenge of this magnitude requires a true collaboration, and Woods commended his actors and crew for their courage and versatility as they explore uncharted territory.

“This has been a collaboration,” Woods said. “I have asked an awful lot of these guys and our production team too in terms of imagination — to take risks and fail. It’s been great working like this. It’s a lot more fun than sitting there and listening to some dogmatic asshole tell everyone what to do.”

“Each of these four guys are solid actors,” Woods continued. “But what they have that maybe all actors don’t have is combination of curiosity and courage that enables them to walk that thin line and take those chances.”

wanna go?

“Bouncers” will premiere at the Hanesbrands Theatre at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts — located at 251 N. Spruce St. in downtown Winston-Salem —

Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. The show runs through Sept. 25. For further info, call 336.747.1414 or visit: www.rhodesartscenter.org.

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