Ensemble Stage has moved its professional theater productions to downtown Banner Elk, relocating from Blowing Rock to the Historic Banner Elk School.
The group, founded in 2009, will set up permanent residence at the historic school and give performances throughout the year. Its previous location at the Blowing Rock School auditorium limited performances to summer break and other school holidays.
“We’ve always wanted to do things year-round,” says Gary Smith, artistic director for Ensemble Stage. “We want people anytime of year to say, ‘Ensemble Stage has something going on in Banner Elk. Let’s go there.’”
In partnership with the Town of Banner Elk, Ensemble Stage will lease both performance and practice space. The group’s presence at the school, as well as funds from its lease agreement, will help to continue renovations at the Historic Banner Elk School.
“The town is very excited about them coming to our area,” says Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly. “They love the facilities, and we’re all in unison in thinking this is going to be wonderful for the entire community.”
The Historic Banner Elk School, built in 1939 as a WPA project, is now owned by the town. It is home to the Banner Elk Book Exchange and the offices of a lifestyle magazine, and has received inquiries from such possible tenants as practicing artists and a dance studio.
Ensemble Stage will use the school’s gymnasium for its performance space. The group will make improvements, such as adding a new stage, lighting system and risers with seats. The risers will be removable, allowing the space to be used for other functions.
The group opens its Mainstage season June 16. A summer lineup of four plays will be announced in late February, and tickets will go on sale in March. Ensemble Stage’s plays will complement Lees-McRae College’s Summer Theatre series, which consists of musicals.
“People will be able to come into town and have a weekend of theater,” Smith says. “They can see a show one day and a completely different show the next and stay in Banner Elk and eat at the restaurants and shop downtown. We’re going to add to the fact that Banner Elk is an arts mecca for the High Country, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”