04 Jun 2021
No pressing pause on Sandhills area theatre
By Ray Owen
The Sandhills region has an impressive selection of live theatre offerings – from professional companies to youth programs. A rich heritage of community theatre makes this fertile ground for the performing arts with ample opportunities to experience intrigue, drama, music and belly laughs – even now.
Cape Fear Regional Theatre (CFRT) located in Fayetteville is among our oldest presenters, now in their 59th season. In a typical year, they do three to four musicals and two to three plays that vary from popular titles like Mamma Mia! and family-friendly Shrek, to more provocative plays like The Cake and Trumbo.
“We also have a wide range of children’s programming and outreach,” says Mary Kate Burke, CFRT Artistic Director. “There are summer camps and day classes on every federal holiday to accommodate the children of working parents, and we have classes throughout the year for both young people and adults.”
“Auditions are held for all shows giving locals an opportunity to join us,” says Burke. “We usually bring in a couple high-level performers, like Robert Newman, who was in the Guiding Light for 28 years, and Shonica Gooden, who was in the Broadway production of Hamilton. It’s a great opportunity for local talent to work alongside some of the best.”
“There are three professional theaters in our community that coexist beautifully,” says Burke. “Gilbert Theater has a black box, and they do a lot more experimental and edgy work. They did Venus in Fur, a two-person play that’s a tad naughty. They also did The Laramie Project, a play about a gay college student who was murdered.”
“Another company in town is called Sweet Tea Shakespeare. They do pop-up theatre at different locations – in a park or behind a house. They did Sweeney Todd in a pie company. That makes you engage your creativity and find bold and interesting solutions to reach your audience.”
“I frequently go to PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill,” says Burke. “They do really stellar productions. I saw She Loves Me there and it was honestly as good if not better than what I’d seen on Broadway. They have a range of shows, something for everyone, and also do some thought-provoking plays and introduce new works.”
“I just saw The Last Five Years at Raleigh Little Theatre, which they did outdoors at the Stephenson Amphitheatre. It’s a two-person musical with members from the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. We went out with our lawn chairs and it was just fantastic. Patrick Torres, artistic director there, is doing some incredible things.”
“A company I enjoy quite a bit is the North Carolina Theatre, housed in Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center. They produce really big musicals and do them very well. So there’s no lack of engagement for anybody interested in participating and taking in some wonderful theatre,” says Burke.
“I think one of the advantages of being in the Sandhills is that we’re centrally located,” says Peggy Taphorn, Producing Artistic Director of the Temple Theatre in Sanford. Built in 1925 to showcase Vaudeville entertainers, they do musicals, main stage shows, a myriad of youth programs, and host comedians and bands.
“They all love playing the Temple because it’s intimate at 330 seats,” Taphorn explains. “The acoustics are perfect, being built when it was before technology – there’s not a bad seat in the house. You really feel like you’re part of something alive and you sense the history and good mojo.”
“Part of our mission is to honor the past of this beautiful place,” she continues. “The mosaic in the lobby and chandelier are original, as is the tin ceiling throughout the building – that’s what makes Temple really unique and special. We’ve made the most of our ‘pandemic break’ by doing a lot of physical plant upgrades – we’ve repainted the proscenium and redone the interior.”
“CFRT in Fayetteville is fantastic,” says Taphorn. “In fact, I’m going to see Murder for Two. We share technical people, resources and swap costumes and props. That’s the best part about being in this area. The talent pool and creative teams are here and are very supportive.”
As for Raleigh venues, Taphorn attends performances by The Justice Theater Project, whose mission is to produce compelling theatrical experiences that create community dialogue and give voice to social concerns. Their artistic director, Jerry Sipp, is a past artistic director at Temple Theatre. She also enjoys Theatre in the Park, and has hired their artistic director, Ira David Wood, as an actor.
Burning Coal Theatre Company is another of Taphorn’s favorites in Raleigh. “Their productions and space are very different than ours, but the experience is always professional,” she says. Described as literate, visceral and affecting – Burning Coal is theatre that’s experienced and not simply seen.
“I came from the for-profit world in New York doing Broadway shows and tours,” says Taphorn. “The feel of doing not-for-profit work is more meaningful. All of us artistic directors feel like we’re part of a community, especially during COVID. We’d get in touch and ask ‘How are you doing this?’ We’ve got something special here with so many outlets.”
“We all try to work together. If one theatre is doing a production this year, then I’ll wait a couple years before doing it because we share the same audience. This gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy all kinds of theatre, an easy drive from anywhere in our region.”
So let’s all break a leg to get out and support these regional opportunities to see live theater. We can press pause on all our streaming, and incorporate some fun jaunts to some Live Action!
Cape Fear Regional Theater
Burning Coal Theater
The Justice Theater Project
PlayMakers Repertory Company
Raleigh Little Theater
Theater in the Park