I doubt that many of us can recall a more difficult time for our nation in recent history. Our town is just one example of countless communities practicing stay-at-home recommendations and self-distancing guidelines. Our lives seem presently dictated in varying degrees by an insidious virus that may continue to change the way we do things for some time to come. Yet in the midst of this crisis, people reach out to one another in innovative ways and strive to be brave and kind in the face of adversity and confinement.
As our country slowly attempts to reopen, new challenges will be met and heroes on the front lines recognized. But let us not forget those who have come forward to relieve our fears and ease the boredom of our restrictions. From high-rise apartment windows and balconies, to television, radio, and social media, entertainers have lifted our spirits with humor, audacity, and a wide range of talent. Some of the most famous raised an incredible amount of money, came together for televised specials, gave free online concerts, and public service announcements. Even pets were called upon to perform, and in some cases model protective masks and gear. From Broadway productions to Andrea Bocelli singing alone from Duomo di Milano on Easter Sunday, the artists reach out to us and into our homes, reminding us of the beauty that lies in human nature.
Here in our town, I have had the privilege to work with children devoted to the performing arts. Having formed the Saluda Historic Depot Theatre Troupe as an outreach program for the museum, the children who appeared at the first audition became the founding members of the Young Acting Krew (YAK). YAK has since grown to twenty-three members ranging in age from four to sixteen. YAK’s history of musical plays and performances can be viewed on my website: www.corinnefgerwe.com.
Due to the extraordinary generosity of our first patron, Hilda Pace, we now have a building (once run by her civic-minded mother as the Mountain Page Community Center) under renovation, just 2.3 miles from town. Having witnessed YAK perform and rehearse in borrowed spaces for almost three years, Hilda, and a team of volunteers stepped forward to make the dream of a local theater a reality. From the profits made by plays, and money raised over the past summer at the YAK Shack concession stand (built by Don Mintz), work began with limited funds. Those funds were supplemented by the volunteers and business owners who have donated services and supplies for the renovation.
Following early warnings about the COVID-19 virus, YAK’s weekly rehearsals were halted as everyone adjusted to a new norm. We continue to communicate by email, chat room, and blog updates as creative work continues on our next project. Renovation at the theater site also continues. Our primary volunteer team of John and Lin Savage, David Berry and Janet Newman, Chad Blotner, Richard, Beth, and Conrad Rutherford, and Jim and Kathy Beyer, follow a project task schedule that specifies work that can be done individually.
For example, Jim Beyer contacted Dale Epperson in late February explaining the project. Without hesitation, he sent his tree service crew to remove eight large trees that posed a threat to the building, donating this monumental service. Since then, following the self-distancing project schedule developed by our team leader, David Berry, Chad Blotner has worked alone to install an electrical system that includes indoor lighting, outlets and switches, exit and pole lights, bathroom vents and fans etc. Overhead lines were replaced with underground lines and a new electrical box installed by Duke Energy in co-ordination with Chad’s work.
We did have one risky social interaction when Chad discovered a snake nesting above one of the bathroom ceilings. Sam Woodbery was called upon to remove this stubborn fellow, who tried to slither back in and had to be taken farther away to a distant running stream before accepting a new habitat.
John and Lin Savage, who have worked on this project since the beginning, along with Jim and Kathy Beyer, followed safety guide lines while building the foundation of the stage that will one day hold our performers. John regularly tackles a formidable list of carpentry tasks that include construction and repairs on the interior and exterior of the building. He has not only been instrumental in gaining the support of Lowes, he has contacted several businesses to request assistance with insulation and flooring and heating and air. As a result, Pisgah Insulation and Foam, out of Mills River, came forward this week to install the insulation at cost.
Richard Rutherford, working at home on our future lighting and sound system, designed a plan for electrical outlets to be built into the stage for lighting and sound. Having reached out to former friends in the music industry to acquire expensive lighting equipment, the owner of Eric Loader Elation Lighting sent us six boxes of state-of-the-art lights that would have been beyond our reach financially. Richard has since installed tracks of ceiling struts at the theater to hold them.
David H. Berry, Capital Projects Construction Manager of Henderson County, has also worked alone nights and weekends to enclose the bathrooms with new rustic framing and oversee every aspect of this project to make sure every improvement meets code. Janet Newman often helps him with construction, using her creative skills and innovative ideas. She is also a champion of the theater and eager to help with planning.
David, John, and Chad bravely don masks to trek to Lowes for lumber and electrical equipment, new doors to replace the existing ones, and plumbing supplies. Local plumber, Michael Taylor, gives his time to replace restroom fixtures and the hot water heater. Local builder, Sean Mintz, also took time to bring his heavy equipment to remove a collapsed shelter from an 18′ X 36′ concrete slab foundation where a new pavilion will be constructed at some point in the project. As the least handy of the team, I do painting and clean-up.
Our benefactor, Hilda Pace, comes from next door on her riding mower to cut the grass, check on progress, and make sure I am wearing the homemade mask she made for me. The lawn is expansive and well-groomed, the property surrounded by forest and pastures, the air fresh and clean. It is a perfect place for outdoor events and evening intermission gatherings. The interior has the seating capacity for an audience of fifty-to seventy. After opening, until such time as it is safe to hold such events, small performing arts educational workshops will be conducted as deemed appropriate and safe.
The month of May focus will be exterior sprucing up, power-washing, painting and landscaping, all of us taking turns rather than working collectively. In a sense, we work like ships that pass in the night at the theater site, with hopes for better days. However, the efforts of those who have given so much to make this happen, will be acknowledged every time a performance is given at a future time that is still undetermined. The June 20th target date for our Grand Opening might be postponed, but the children know it is coming and are preparing at home. They are a generation nurtured by our wonderful community and environment and will soon brighten our world with their talents in a place designed just for them.