Quite an Ensemble
Ensemble Stage: A Year Later
It's a quiet Tuesday evening. Outside, the rain smacks against Blowing Rock School, but inside, a different storm is raging. It's a grisly tale, one of murder and dirty gore, and if you missed it, there won't be an encore. Even though Ashleigh Herndon and Jon Greene are facing scripts instead of an audience, it's a hushed stage as those gathered picture Herndon's character torturing Greene's.
"Why don't you love me?" she bellows as Greene flinches.
It's not Herndon who's really screaming. It's her character, a character Herndon met for the first time 10 minutes ago, and yet by just reading the script, she's already become connected in a way only an actor can understand.
"Well, that was certainly," Lisa Lamont paused at the conclusion, "interesting."
It's the way she says it that makes it evident these Halloween-themed plays won't be on the docket for Ensemble Stage any time soon. It's a bit gory and difficult to stage, at least here in Blowing Rock. Of course, that's precisely why Lamont conducts these readings each week.
"It's how we choose plays," Lamont said.
The free play readings, held almost every Tuesday at Blowing Rock School, aren't just about creating a pool for Ensemble Stage to pull scripts from. It's about promoting the Ensemble Stage mission of creating accessible performing art.
"We wanted theatre to be accessible to everybody in one form or another," director Gary Smith said.
It's not just about accessibility. It's also about affordability. Since its inception last October, Ensemble Stage has made it a personal mission: Creating theatre the High Country, and not just the tourists, can afford.
"We just love this area up here, and we just thought it was really important for this area to have access, to not just performance arts, but affordable performance arts," he said.
While Ensemble's repertoire includes pricy interactive murder mystery dinners in the $50 range, the play readings provide a completely free alternative.
"If people are interested in the performing arts or enjoy hearing plays," Smith said, "they can still come and hear a reading or maybe be part of the reading."
It's been almost a year and, while goals have been accomplished, Ensemble Stage, created after the closure of the Hayes Performing Arts Center and Blowing Rock Stage Company, still has a long way to go to exceed Smith's own high expectations. Even with a successful drama camp ("It wasn't just about theatre, it was about becoming better citizens," he said), Ensemble Stage hasn't begun to reach its potential.
"We've got a lot of plans in the future, and we keep driving forward," he said, with some of the most diverse offerings you'll find outside of Appalachian State University.
"We do everything from the play readings to interactive murder mysteries to regular full-staged plays," he said.
And it's only going to get better.
"It's not just about theatre," he said. "It's about learning to interact with people and learning to talk to people and being able to carry on a conversation and to use your imagination. Even Albert Einstein said, 'Imagination is more important than knowledge,' and it's very true, because without imagination ... all the things invented in this world wouldn't have been invented. I think theatre helps ... you use your imagination and use it in good ways."
And Ensemble Stage promises to feed High Country imaginations for years to come.
On Stage NOW: God's Man in Texas
Ensemble's latest full-staged play came directly from a reading a few months ago, and it's all about power play.
Introducing God's Man in Texas.
"It's a story that takes place at a Baptist mega-church in Houston," Smith said.
Think a shopping mall, swimming pool, school and church all in "one great big complex."
When the church council decides to bring in a co-pastor, his changes don't sit well with the 81-year-old pastor in chief.
"This new pastor is wanting to get the church back to being based more upon faith and religion than the numbers and the ratings on TV shows," Smith said.
And the old pastor? He's not one to change his ways easily.
"It's really a neat story about the struggle for power and ... the difference between worrying about ratings on TV and truly just worrying about the true faith and the real religious experience," Smith said.
For Smith, the decision to produce the play was easy after the play reading two months ago.
"In the fall ... we really want to gear shows toward the residents up here in the High Country and, when we read this play and we heard it ... to me it was just perfect for up here," he said. "This is the High Country. Up here, we've got a pretty strong religious base, and people go to church here twice a week and things like that. This play, I think, will really speak to those people."
But that's not all.
"It's also funny," he said. "Even if you're not religious, it's still a funny play. There's a lot of drama in it and some twists and turns ... there's some funny stuff in it, but it's a drama with comedy in it. That's the best way to describe it."
God's Man in Texas by David Rambo happens Sept. 10, 11, 14, 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 12 at 3:30 p.m.
For tickets and more information, visit http://www.ensemblestage.com.
Aliens. They're coming, and not to New York or New Jersey, but to the High Country. No, this isn't straight from the tabloids, it's straight from your speakers as Ensemble Stage presents (for the second year in a row), a classic radio play: Orson Welles' War of the Worlds.
"We've localized it," Smith said.
Instead of a Yankee invasion, think aliens right here in Blowing Rock, Boone and Asheville.
"It's going to be really great," Lamont said.
And you may be able to hear it from your radio and not just in the Blowing Rock School auditorium. Last year, Appalachian State University radio station WASU broadcast the play like a regular newscast. WASU could not confirm it's happening this year, but it's a strong possibility.
The show will happen Oct. 30 and 31. Check out http://www.ensemblestage.com for more information on this and other productions.