Act of faith

The survival of any community theater relies on the kindness of strangers.

With the sale of the Broadway Arts Building late last year, several independent theater groups found themselves “dispossessed,” according to producer Sheldon Lawrence. Space as affordable as the green door (which was located in the basement of the Broadway Arts Building, with an entrance on Carolina Lane) is hard to come by, but his contemporary theater company, Consider the Following, has leased a new downtown space: the long-vacant basement of the Family Dollar building.

But CTF needs $50,000 to bring the 10,000-square-foot space up to city codes in time for a March production.

A raffle’s the thing: More than 80 local merchants have donated 100 gift certificates and prizes that Consider the Following will raffle off during its last green door production, The Vagina Monologues, which runs Jan. 10-20.

“Local merchants have shown a great capacity to support the arts in Asheville,” says Lawrence. He and business partner Lynnora Bierce-Wilson have garnered such goodies as coffee from Beanstreets, gift certificates from the Golden Horn and other dining establishments, and a painting by local arts maven Connie Bostic.

The money raised by the raffle will fund the installation of heating/air, lighting and handicapped access, among other renovations.

“It’s a good space,” continues Lawrence, surveying the barely lit basement. Broken tiles and the remains of electrical outlets litter the floor. Huge columns divide the space down the middle, and the old Woolworth’s staircase has been partially blocked off. The theater proper will be laid out down one side, so no columns disrupt patrons’ view (as they did at the green door, the producer mentions). On the other side of the columns, Lawrence envisions office space, room to make and store props, and dressing rooms for actors. At the rear of the theater side, he sees a bar and lighting booth. Patrons would enter from a Haywood Street entrance or the more handicapped-accessible rear entrance next to the Rankin Street Parking Deck.

“Since [Bierce-Wilson and I] started the company several years ago, we’ve operated from my bedroom and her living room,” Lawrence explains. “That’s where our computers are. Now we’ll have one central base of operations. And we can rent the space to other production companies, at less than what the green door charges. That’s one reason we’re doing this.”

Asheville needs independent theater and performance groups — who in turn need an affordable venue, he asserts. Consider the Following and similar troupes fill the gap between what the Montford Park Players and the Asheville Community Theatre offer, Lawrence reflects: “We do plays that are a little bit off the beaten path [and] that make you think — especially plays with strong roles for women.”

Recent Consider the Following productions include Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and Jane Wagner’s Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (written for and originally performed by Lily Tomlin). None are what Lawrence refers to as “mainstream” drama. About The Children’s Hour — the story of a vengeful schoolgirl in the 1930s who starts a rumor that her two teachers are lesbians — he notes: “[It’s] not a feel-good type of play.” And even the comedy in Mother Courage is actually meant to evoke anger about the absurdity of war.

Lawrence muses, “You can do comedy or drama or histories — it doesn’t matter. The whole point of the theater is to make you think about what you’ve seen and how it relates to your life.”

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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