Village Theater Foundation Races Clock for Funds
Efforts to bring performing arts to northern Moore County are at a crisis point.
The nonprofit foundation restoring the old Village Theater in the heart of Robbins has a limited window of time to buy a building next door.
It’s a barbershop, with the old Masonic lodge upstairs. The space includes restrooms, a small kitchen, a large upstairs room, and exterior rear access. Punching through the wall separating it from the theater would make it possible to add restrooms, exits and other necessities required to reopen the place for audiences.
“We need to raise $12,575 as soon as we can,” said Laura Ann Brady, the former Robbins mayor who is the foundation’s finance officer.
The nonprofit Robbins Village Theater Foundation bought the theater with a targeted grant and private donations. It has cleared out the interior, and removed partitions blocking the balcony and the auditorium section beneath it.
Now the foundation hopes to add the next-door building and connect it to the theater as a way of meeting a number of needs. Albert Brown is ready to end his long years of trimming and cutting hair at his Salisbury Street shop — but he’s holding the spot for the theater foundation in hopes they can buy it and make it part of a legacy for his town.
“There’s a lot of good people in this town,” Brown said. “You run into a lot of good people if you run a place. I’ve been here 23 years and never had anything bother me.”
Brown hopes this will come to pass. But he said can’t wait forever.
The foundation is urgently seeking angels who can put a gift toward something meaningful for the whole county.
Two engineers — offering their time as volunteers — have already examined the theater from rooftop to basement and declared its structure basically sound and needing only a few repairs. The rear wall needs an exterior drain, and there is a section over the stage at the back corner of the roof that needs fixing.
Posts beneath the stage floor can safely be removed once a supporting beam is attached to the rear wall — thus entirely opening the understage for traps, make-up and costuming.
In order to open, the building needs to meet requirements for access and safe exits, adequate bathroom facilities, and possibly a sprinkler system. Much of the work, Brady said, could be done by Robbins residents who are handy with tools.
Key to this is acquiring the barbershop building, and the foundation has a promised donation in the form of a matching gift toward the $45,000 cost to buy it.
“We have been promised an additional $10,000 once we raise $35,000,” said Jean McSwain, secretary to the foundation board. “We need to raise $12,575.85 to qualify for this gift.”
The nonprofit has been working hard to raise money. A series of gospel sings — growing in popularity — has been bringing in a few hundred dollars at a time.
McSwain said the gospel sing June 24 was a “huge success.” The next one will be Aug. 26.
Before that, a sanctioned 5k run on Aug. 2 (during Farmers Day) will also serve as a fundraiser. While each of these efforts raises something toward the cost of bringing the performance space to life, the foundation needs help urgently to take advantage of this chance to solve so many problems in a single stroke.
So far, the foundation has raised $459 from outdoor movies and the annual Bear Creek Plunge, another $450 from two gospel sings, and donations of varying amounts. At last count, the donation jar at Robbins City Hall had $20.25 in it.
“We have had contributions of $11,428.15 since signing the option to purchase in January of this year,” McSwain said. “Once we have collected the $35,000, the additional $10,000 will be given. The purchase price of the building is $40,000. The extra $5,000 is for the legal fees and plans for the building.”
An “as built” drawing of the entire theater was constructed using a state-of-the-art laser-driven imaging device. Prints are on display now in lobby windows.
The Village Theater was built in 1946. At that time, it was the third theater in Robbins and the largest by far.
Race laws in those days required entirely separate entrances for blacks and whites. Stairs to the segregated balcony still exist, along with two small bathrooms upstairs. That historic aspect adds to the foundation’s hope of restoring the theater.
Ironically, the existence of that second stairway to the balcony makes its future use safer. At the back of the balcony area is the old projection booth with its fused fire shutters, where old projectors once beamed Saturday serials. A large resistance dimmer once used for house lights still holds its place between projector bases. A third balcony restroom is inside the booth.
A count of bolt marks where theater seats used to be anchored gives a rough estimate of a seating capacity between 750 and 800. Old seats from the Sunrise that volunteers once lovingly restored when the Arts Council bought that building were sold and subsequently donated for use in the Village Theater.
The late Sherwood Lapping and others bought them, hoping someday to have a space in Carthage or somewhere else in northern Moore County. (The outdoor theater in Nancy Kiser Park in the county seat is named for Lapping.) Volunteer town workers brought them from storage at the old Carthage water plant to Robbins, where they now wait for installation.
If enough benefactors can be found to help the Robbins group raise this $12,000 needed to qualify for the matching gift, Brady said she is sure they will find enough willing hands to go to work on the place.
They’ll break loose crumbling plaster to expose original brick, and make a doorway from the theater lobby to the downstairs section of the barber shop building. Then they will clean and repair bathrooms there. Upstairs, it would also be possible to open the walls of the balcony to the old lodge room, thereby adding additional fire exits.
Many theater professionals have visited the Village Theater and expressed excitement about its prospects. The stage could easily be widened and somewhat extended. Other suggested improvements include raising the roof above to provide a fly gallery.
A recent study cited by the Arts Council of Moore County shows the economic impact of the arts to be more than significant. Shows are a huge draw. The biggest tourist attraction in neighboring Lee County is the Temple Theatre.
The Village Theater, once restored, could accommodate an audience twice the size of that of either the Temple or Sunrise. Its location — barely more than an hour from the center of downtown Market Street in Greensboro and nearly as close to the Raleigh/Durham/ Chapel Hill area — makes it more than viable as an attraction.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at email@example.com.
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