For decades, the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre has been one of Western North Carolina’s most notable professional summer theater companies. It has shown a strong dedication to the cultivation of new works, hosting an annual ScriptFest event and producing each year’s winners onstage in the following seasons.
In March, the public learned that there would be no summer season of live theater (for the first time in 42 years) from the SART website and reports in the local media. For two years, the theater company was without access to its home — Owen Theatre on the Mars Hill University campus — due to construction of a new theater arts building. The summer of 2015 saw SART touring the show Pumpboys And Dinettes to various high school auditoriums, playing to small audiences. The companyy had hoped to be back in Owen Theatre by last summer, but construction lingered, and a shortened season of shows in smaller venues on campus furthered frustrations and reduced revenues. Owen Theatre is now open and available again, but SART did not have the resources to schedule a season this year. There were also major staff changes within SART, with the 2016 retirement of Bill Gregg as artistic director.
But those setbacks won’t keep SART from mounting a fundraiser that serves to keep the doors open in 2017 — if only for one weekend — thanks to the efforts of a number of loyal supporters. SART alum, musician, actor and playwright Randy Noojin is bringing his one-man, multimedia musical, Hard Travelin’ with Woody, to the stage from Thursday, July 27, to Sunday, July 30, at Owen Theatre. In lieu of tickets, donations can be made to a GoFundMe page, which raised around $6,000 of a $20,000 goal in the first month of the campaign. Donations can also be made at the door.
Noojin recently played Pete Seeger in the show Seeger at N.C. Stage Company. He has garnered praise from around the county for both shows, having carved out a unique niche for himself, bringing the two folk-music legends to life onstage. Noojin also spent many years with SART as a performer. On his own Facebook page, Noojin has shared the SART event, imploring people to, “support the great SART revival,” and “Help Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre live to be Magic in the Mountains again.”
Members of the SART board, as well as Mars Hill University president Dan Lunsford, remain optimistic that SART’s curtain will rise again. There is hope that this fundraiser will help set the theater company on that path. According to SART board president Jim Brown, if the performances and fundraiser go well, the company will be able to move forward with planning, staffing, resources and a clearer understanding of what is to come next. Organizers will gauge the audience and community interest and support before making larger plans for the future, which still remains uncertain.
“If SART is to be able to get out of debt,” says Brown, “then we would like to build relationships with corporate sponsors, develop relationships with other regional theaters, produce high quality theater and get back to our mission of new play development.”
WHAT: Hard Travelin’ With Woody
WHERE: Owen Theatre, Mars Hill University
WHEN: Thursday, July 27-Sunday, 30, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Donations accepted at sartplays.org or at the door ahead of the performances