At noon Friday, in front of a six-piece backdrop depicting an ancient Egyptian temple and court scene, John R. Yarnall, president of the Asheville Masonic Temple, and John Russell, the Managing Director of The Montford Park Players, signed a long-term rental agreement and announced that the temple is now officially the “permanent home of the indoor season of the Montford Park Players.” The third-floor theatre seats 270 people and was built in 1915 by Mason and renowned architect Richard Sharp Smith.
“Eden fading into less-than-Eden”
In addition to their summer season, where five of Shakespeare’s play are staged under that stars at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre in Montford, North Carolina’s longest-running Shakespeare series will now offer three productions a year at the Masonic Temple, coined the “Montford on Broadway” winter season. A performance of A Christmas Carol launches the new partnership, and is slated to run from Dec. 9 through 19.
“This is an intimate space,” Yarnall said. The theatre allows for amazing “interaction between actors, musicians and their audience and the acoustics are phenomenal,” Yarnall said, adding that The Montford Park Players were the temple’s first choice when deciding whom to offer the space to. Russell, in turn, made a pledge on behalf of the company, promising to “be good stewards” to the theatre.
“Our goal is to completely renovate the building,” Yarnall said, describing why, after so many years of privacy, the temple has decided to open its doors to the public and to local entertainers. He described the building on a whole as a time capsule where “little has been done in 60 to 80 years.” Partnerships such as this will help the temple earn revenue to support their ambition renovations plans, which include painting the ceiling of the theatre midnight blue, decorated with constellations from the Zodiac. “We want to do this building justice by reaching out to the community,” Yarnall said. “We want to bring the community into our home.”
There are 48 backdrops, all hand painted by Chicago artists Thomas Gibbs Moses, hanging in the eaves and rafters above the theatre (which haven’t been moved since 1915). The paintings and elaborate six-piece sets were “used for Masonic rituals” by the Scottish Rite, a branch of the masonic order. When walking into the space for today’s announcement, a landscape painting set the scene: Green earth and palm trees run into dark, ominous mountains and the two worlds are separated by a winding river. Yarnall described the backdrop as “Eden fading into less-than-Eden.” These backdrops are visually stunning, and will add to the dimension and quality of the Montford Park Players’ performances.
To schedule a tour through the temple, and to see the theatre, contact Ron Lambe: 252-3924. For information about The Montford Park Players click here.
The Masonic Temple is located at 80 Broadway in downtown Asheville.
Photos by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt