STEPHEN SMITH: Arts Focus: Weymouth Center Can Hardly Pack 'Em In
Writer Bland Simpson looked out at the capacity crowd and said, "The Weymouth Center is the best venue in the state."
And he meant it. Simpson's lecture last Sunday filled up the great room at Weymouth and had 20 or so attendees standing in the aisles and others seated in the hallway. A few unfortunates were simply unable to find seating at the lecture.
When it comes to N.C. venues, Simpson knows of what he speaks. He has lectured and performed in most of them. These days he's chairing the English Department at UNC-Chapel Hill -- and in his spare time he also directs the Creative Writing Program, writes nonfiction books by the bushel basket, plays piano with the renowned Red Clay Ramblers and the Coastal Cohorts, writes and stars in musicals, and narrates documentaries for Public Television.
"I love coming to Weymouth," he said. "The crowds here are very generous."
His Sunday program was part of the Weymouth Arts and Humanities Committee's three-part series on exploring North Carolina rivers. Simpson spoke on "The Devil's Courthouse to Devil's Gut and Beyond," taking a close look -- in words, video and music -- at the French Broad River, which rises in the Great Smoky Mountains and flows through Asheville, and the Pasquotank River in the swampy Albemarle Sound country where Simpson spent his childhood. The program was sponsored by the North Carolina Humanities Council.
Deirdre Newton, chairperson of the Weymouth Board, was busy rounding up extra chairs to accommodate the overflow and wondering what Weymouth could do to better serve the clientele that's been turning up in the great room.
"We've become a victim of our success," she said. "We haven't been able to completely seat the crowds that have been attending our programs."
Recent capacity crowds have attended the Chamber Music Series on Jan. 19 and a program on "Glen Rounds: Artist/Raconteur" on Feb. 3.
"We're exploring ways in which to accommodate everyone," Newton said, "and we've met with other organizations to identify possible meeting places."
The problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that folks like attending programs at Weymouth -- especially in the great room, where the acoustics are perfect and ambience is even more so. After all, the old Boyd house was a meeting place for some of America's greatest writers -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Sherwood Anderson among them.
"It is, in part, the history of Weymouth that draws the audience," says Marsha Warren, chairperson of the Arts and Humanities Lecture Series. "When you're seated in the great room, you can almost feel the history. And people are very much at home here -- we'll be working hard on arrangements to expand our ability to seat the audience."
In addition to the lecture and music series, the Women of Weymouth, an all-volunteer organization, provide a reception for each program.
"The Women of Weymouth add that extra touch to every program," says Warren. "They are one of the hardest-working organizations associated with the center."
At 3 p.m. this Sunday, the Arts and Humanities Series will present "Mountain Marionettes: Stories from Aunt Nelly's Mountain Home," a special hands-on program for parents and children, and on Sunday, March 2, the Chamber Music Series will present Douglas James & Pasquale Rucco, classical guitarists.
Part 2 of the North Carolina Rivers program, "The Neuse River's 1600-year-old Indian relics, Revolutionary glass and inkwells" by Janet Lembke, will be held on March 16 at 3 p.m.
The Ragan Writers' Series will present Daniel Wallace, author of "Big Fish," on Sunday, March 30, at 3 p.m., and the final part of the River Series, "The Black River's steamboats, turpentine still, long rafts, ivory-billed woodpeckers and swamps of ancient cypress" with Larry Earley, is scheduled for Sunday, April 13, at 3 p.m.
For a complete listing of programs at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, visit http://www.weymouthcenter.org/events.htm.
As for the overcrowding -- come early and get a good seat.
Stephen Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
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