Asheville Community Theatre completes renovations in time for new season
It has the smell of new. Brand new. Comfortable, bright blue seating with wider aisles. Check. The latest in L.E.D lighting equipment. Check. High-tech sound and light boards. Check. Acoustic panels to better bounce around sounds from the stage. Check. Cutting edge technology for those who wear hearing aids. Check. New carpeting and wallcoverings. Check.
These are some of the updates that are part of a $1.6 million renovation to Asheville Community Theatre.
The list does go on and the auditorium and backstage dressing rooms have undergone a much needed modernizing. It’s fresh. It’s new. And it’s exciting for the ACT community. They’ve been waiting since January of this year, the theatre dark while work was done. “You can just feel the difference when you walk into the auditorium. It has this new energy,” Marketing Director Jenny Bunn says one Friday afternoon. “Everyone who has seen it has this kind of ‘oh wow … ahhh … just love it’ reaction.” The building is 45 years old and it was showing its age. The light board was so ancient, replacement parts could no longer be found. So the journey to renovation began 18 months ago. The staff asked for opinions from donors, theatre goers, volunteers, anyone they could think of who could help them “get it just right.”
After putting together a wish list, proposals came in from design professionals who gave ACT a “Cadillac” bid, Bunn laughs. And although they didn’t choose the one with probably every single amenity they’d like to have, they’re very happy with the results. And very thankful for a $1.5 million grant from the Buncombe County Tourism Development. ($2.2 million in all was raised and the difference will go towards future expansion.)
“We got some of this work done just in time,” Bunn says, doing a walk and talk tour through the auditorium smelling of fresh paint. “We’d be having some leak issues right now, with all of the recent rain, if we hadn’t gotten a new roof.”
Bunn talks excitedly as she steps around unpacked boxes of lighting, vacuum cleaners, other boxes of wiring. She points to some seats that still need to be put in place before the opening night of “The Producers”. (The show ran from August 18 through September 10.) “We might just be working right up until the curtain goes up. Of course, that’s what we do every time we open a show. This time, there’s just a lot more going on.”
Bunn continues with the tour, taking a bit of a trip down memory lane. ACT has been around since 1946, producing comedies, dramas and musicals and is one of the oldest operating community theatres in the nation. She walks up on the edge of one of the new, wider and safer ramps to the stage.
When this part of the stage was being added, “(we) finally got to see the original stage. We must have counted at least 20-30 layers of paint. That’s certainly not all of the shows that have been done here in six decades, but we kept looking at some of the colors and trying to guess what show each belonged to,” Bunn says.
The tour moves backstage where Bunn happily points to a new washing machine dedicated to dying fabric. “That’s really a big deal.” She looks towards new cabinets that hold years of gadgets and whatnots that actors and tech crews might need for any given show. She finally walks into the women’s dressing room and can barely contain herself when she points to all of the additional lighting set up for each actor.
“It may seem like a small thing. Total volunteer hours came to 37,000 in the last documented year of 2015-2016,” Bunn explains. Making sure everyone has a place to feel as special as the shows we put on, really makes us all feel good. Our volunteers are everything and they deserve the best.”
While the celebration is on for the recent changes at ACT, all of the work is not yet and won’t be until another building is added on the property. That structure will house an education facility and a new black box theatre to replace the current 35 below performing space. But that’s all at least a year away. There’s the 2017-2018 season to be completed, more planning, more designs, more fundraising. Bunn is hopeful ground will be broken in September of 2018. Until then? It’s on with the shows… What else?
Tracy D. Hyorth has been writing about Asheville and Western North Carolina since the late ‘80s and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org