Stages of Summer
Things to do this summer: Comedy, drama, game shows, camps... and
It's just another season for Blowing Rock's Ensemble Stage.
The High Country's newest professional theater has announced a summer of entertainment that moves beyond the stage, into the audience and out into the community.
It starts with Senator Sam on May 29, a one-man show starring Ensemble co-founder Gary Smith as the iconic North Carolina senator, Sam Ervin Jr.
The show follows Ervin on the evening of President Richard Nixon's resignation address, taking time to ruminate over his colorful life from growing up in Morganton to fighting in World War I to butting heads with Sen. Joe McCarthy.
"Sam was famous for his homespun humor, so he tells some funny stories about his life," said Smith, who's performed Senator Sam throughout the States. "One of the biggest compliments I'd got was from an old friend of Sam's, who said, 'I haven't seen my friend, Sam, in a long time, and it was nice to get to spend some time with him tonight.' It gave me goose bumps."
Senator Sam will run one night only, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium, and tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for senior citizens and students. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.ensemblestage.com or at the door.
Informal Play Readings
But tickets aren't required for Ensemble's series of informal play readings. Hosted weekly, these readings offer anyone the opportunity to join fellow community members and the company's professional cast in reading through a play.
"Even if you can't afford much, but enjoy the arts, this is such a great opportunity," Smith said. "Sit and listen or read the part of a character, enjoy popcorn and soda, and then discuss. And it helps us hear a play and decide whether we'd like to do a full production."
Informal play readings are held every Tuesday evening in a casual atmosphere, though locations vary. Those interested should contact Ensemble in advance at (828) 919-6196.
Staged Play Readings
Ensemble will also host monthly staged readings, performed by its cast members.
Minimally produced without costumes, sets and props, these particular plays have been rehearsed at length and offer audience members the chance to provide feedback, including whether or not they'd like to see a full-scale production.
Staged readings will be held Saturday, June 5, and Saturday, July 3, at a location yet to be determined. Admission for these events is free, but Smith said donations are appreciated. For more information, including locations, visit http://www.ensemblestage.com.
For January's Blowing Rock Winterfest, Ensemble invited folks to come on down for live productions of '60s and '70s themed game shows, including The Match Game and The Newlywed Game.
Now every month, the stage company's bringing these shows to the ReelHouse Cinema & Draft in Boone.
Contestants will be selected from the audience to step on stage and test their mettle - and wits - in competition for prizes and, of course, reputation.
Game show admission costs between $5 and $10, depending on whether or not it's a dinner show. Upcoming dates are Friday, June 4, and Thursday, July 22. For times and more information, visit Ensemble's website.
The ReelHouse will also play host to the company's follow-up to its War of the Worlds staged radio drama at a date yet to be determined.
Full-Length Stage Plays
As a professional theater with a combined experience of 70-plus years and more than 600 productions, Ensemble will demonstrate its playmaking chops with three fully staged plays in July.
But since the company is still acquiring rights for certain productions, Smith has yet to release the titles. What he does promise is professional "full-emersion theatre," complete with scents, sights and sounds.
These productions are scheduled for July 9, 10, 16, 17 and 31 at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium. Admission costs between $10 and $20, and more details will be released as they're available on Ensemble's website.
'Murder in Tinseltown'
Following the success of its interactive murder mystery this spring, Ensemble is bringing foul play to the Meadowbrook Inn on June 19.
Audience members can enjoy a full dinner, while mingling with in-character actors who unfold a murder mystery before their eyes.
The premise follows an unsuccessful but eccentric film director seeking financial backing for his latest sci-fi flop by way of a dinner party.
Also in attendance are a jealous, aging starlet, her young successor, and an effeminate makeup artist who knows more than he should.
"The audience will be involved and can interact with characters, ask questions and follow them around," Smith said. "During the course of this, someone gets killed. Depending on how the audience takes it ... you just don't know where it'll go."
The mystery's afoot on Saturday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Meadowbrook Inn, located at 711 Main St. in Blowing Rock. Admission costs $42 and includes salad, dinner and dessert, "along with at least one murder." For more information, visit Ensemble's website.
Summer Theatre Camps
Starting in late June, area children will have the chance to hone their acting skills - on and off stage - through a series of day camps.
The first camp, Theatre as Part of the Community, designed for ages 9-13, is a two-week camp where kids learn and work on all the aspects involved in staging a play, from costumes and makeup to character development and acting techniques, all with a focus on community.
"One of the biggest parts of our mission is to be in the community itself," Smith said.
During the first week, campers will talk to area firefighters, police officers and others to learn what it means to be an active part of one's community.
"They'll take all that, write up a play on what they've learned, and perform it," Smith said.
Theatre as Part of the Community runs June 28 through July 9, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration costs $235 and is open till June 14.
For ages 5-8, Ensemble presents Discovering Theatre, a one-week camp that introduces children to theater through games, role-playing and imagination.
"It'll be a lot of improv, even for these little kids," Smith said.
Participants will make props, use stage makeup and create costumes to create and perform a short play by the end of the week.
Discovering Theatre runs from July 12-16, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration costs $125 and is open till June 28.
The third camp, Bringing History to Life through Theatre, is geared toward children ages 14-17 and runs for two weeks. Kids will learn basic and advanced techniques in character creation, on-stage relationships, improvisation and advanced makeup techniques.
"And kids will find out about the history of the area," Smith said, "about Moses Cone, Julian Price, Elliot Daingerfield. They'll learn about our local history and write a play about what they learn. They'll go through the whole process of putting a play together from start to finish."
Bringing History to Life through Theatre runs July 19-30, Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration costs $235 and is open till July 12.
Camps are limited to 15 participants each, so Smith encourages early registration.
On July 24, Ensemble will present a special benefit for an area 7-year-old diagnosed with cancer.
All funds raised will directly benefit the child's family to assist with medical and travel expenses. To help, Smith said, the company will stage a series of short plays that appeal to all ages, "something that's absolutely for the public."
The benefit will be held at a time and date yet to be determined.
Despite decades of experience, Ensemble is a young company, established in fall 2009. As such, it's still building its base with room for growth.
"As we grow, we'll be able to grow our shows, as well, giving bigger extravaganzas," Smith said. "We know how to do them, we've all done them, but we just need a solid base of donors to get started on that."
That's where the Founders Club comes into play.
The first 100 people to donate $100 or more will have their names engraved on a plaque to be prominently displayed at all Ensemble events, as well as on every program. Further, depending on their donation, patrons will receive a laminated golden, silver or bronze ticket to be used for special discounts, previews, Founders Club-only events, and more. And since Ensemble is a nonprofit organization, contributions are tax-deductible.
"Until we get a full base, we'll need to do smaller shows," Smith said.
They may be smaller, but they're still big on entertainment. And as Smith said, "It's something we love to do."
To keep track of Ensemble's goings-on, and for updated information on times and dates, visit http://www.ensemblestage.com or call (828) 919-6196.