Willingham Theater prepares for opening in Yadkinville

Lindsay CravenStaff Writer

January 30, 2013

Yadkin County and the Town of Yadkinville now has a place to visit for the fine arts.

The Willingham Theater will hold its grand opening gala on Feb. 8 and its grand opening to the public on Feb. 9.

The theater held a soft opening on Dec. 1 with the showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark and has since hosted a viewing of The Muppets Christmas Carol and Yadkinville’s annual community chorus performance of Handel’s Messiah.

The theater is the second and final phase of the arts council project. After six years of fundraising, planning and construction the theater is complete to provide the community a locale for theater, dance, musical performances and film.

“What we decided to do for the first year is break our use of the theater down into three distinct time periods,” said John Willingham, Arts Council Board President. “The spring season will be a professional season of performances that we will bring in. It will include music, performance and dance.”

Willingham said that the summer season will be focused on a children’s theater camp which start last year. Children will study theater and its components throughout the month of July and the workshop will culminate with the children’s performance in the theater at the end of the month.

“In the fall we want to have a community theater,” Willingham said. “That’s when we hope that those who have been in theater or want to be in theater will want to get involved and be in a show.”

Willingham said that the community theater is still in its formative stages, and the arts council is waiting to hear from community members who might be interested in participating.

The theater will feature state of the art equipment from front to back. It is equipped with a 7.1 surround sound system, a control room that allows manipulation of the lights, sound and video from the back of the theater, the back wall features sound absorbent tile and all entryways are sound and light blocked.

“There are three curtains on the stage so stage hands can work on sets between scenes,” Willingham said. “There are also side curtains that come down alongside the theater walls for certain types of sound control. These curtains are for performances like big bands where there is a whole lot of sound that needs to muffled a little bit. You’ve got a lot of ways to manage the sound in here to the best possible quality.”

Willingham said that there are also 100 light fixtures throughout the theater. He says that theater staff will be able to configure a light package for any type of production and will also have a spotlight to follow performers on stage.

Behind the stage the theater offers a men’s and women’s dressing room equipped with showers. There are also prop rooms, storage rooms and a scene shop with a welding hook up. The stage has left and right entrance cavities that are sound and light locked so that performers can enter the stage without the audience being aware of them.

For movies the theater houses a 17 foot wide screen and Blu Ray technology. Willingham said that the arts council is working with a movie rental company that allows daily rentals of just about any film desired.

“We’ve learned you can get just about any movie you want with the exception of Disney movies. Disney doesn’t let you rent their movies,” Willingham said. “You pay a fee for one day and you can show at as many times as you want that one day. It’s done through a movie rental company and it’s just a Blu-Ray CD.”

Willingham said that the arts council is working closely with the schools to see how they can accommodate drama classes. Drama teachers from all grade levels were invited out to tour the facility and brainstorm how the schools could participate in the use of the theater.

It is expected that many schools will be limited with their use of the facility because it only offers 193 seats.

“They generally have 300 to 500 parents and kids attending performances,” Willingham said. “They will be thinking about how they can do performances here. In January we’re hoping that Forbush and Starmount Middle Schools will be able to bring their drama classes here for a workshop with students from the North Carolina School of the Arts.”

Willingham said phase two, “raise the curtain”, for the theater cost $1.1 million. Phase one, “got brick?”, which included the arts center, gallery, yard and artist studios cost $2.5 million coming to a total of $3.6 million for the entire arts facility.

Willingham said that all of the theater seats name plaques have been sold but the arts council is still offering sponsorship for the dressing rooms. Anyone who would like to participate can donate $250 and their name or business name will be featured on the dressing room.

Willingham said that he hopes to see the theater put to enough use that it is a profitable endeavor for the arts council.

“Theaters traditionally are real financial burdens,” Willingham said. “They don’t get used enough and so they sit there between performances and they are expensive. I think we can run this theater on a break even or better basis. That’s what our goal is. At the end of the day we don’t want to be pouring money into.”

Performance Season

Ron Stacker Thompson, the chair for screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, has taken on the role of artistic director. Thompson said that he was acquainted with John Willingham and Steven and Susan Lyons.

Thompson said that he had experience with theater prior to his work in film and the arts council asked him to come on board and help guide the board in programming for the new theater.

“It’s a lovely little theater,” Thompson said. “I was so impressed with that they are all trying to do. It’s a major undertaking to try and start a theater where there has not really been one. I was impressed by the fact that the people here in Yadkinville have such spirit. They wanted to do something like this so that made me want to help them.”

Thompson said that the theater’s main goal for the spring season is to focus on bringing in professional performances in all the areas of the arts. There will be performances from the Old Timey Radio Show at the theater’s opening gala, a performance by jazz singer Cle Thompson, a performance by bluegrass musicians the Kruger Brothers, a dance production presented by the UNCSA and a performance of Shakespeare by students from the UNCSA along with a film screening each month.

“Our goal is to be a professional theater in the community,” Thompson said. “We’re starting with bringing talents in that already exist. We will not be creating shows in the first spring season but the goal is to not only bring shows in but to create shows out of the theater and out of the people that live in the community.”

Thompson said that his biggest hope for the theater is that Yadkin County will realize what its possibilities are and what it could mean for the community.

“I hope that people will recognize what a little jewelry this theater has the possibility of being in the community,” Thompson said. “We want to bring magic in a way to young and old and people of all kinds of music and dance persuasions.”

Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at lcraven@heartlandpublications.com.