Seldom do I disagree with my colleague Steve Bouser, but his Sept. 20 column about hoping to see live theater return to the Sunrise Theater is one of those times. I spent 35 years in New York professional theater, and there are some elements of making good theater that it seems the Sunrise in downtown Southern Pines does not have.
Let’s start with the physical building: no wings to speak of, little backstage/crossover space, two very small dressing rooms, and one toilet. Let me break these down for you.
The “wings” are where actors wait to enter, where props are often set “on the ready” for actors. Stagehands are often in the wings to move furniture during scene changes, or wardrobe people are there to help with a fast change. The crossover space behind the set is for those folks to literally cross the width of the stage for either entrances on the opposite side, or moving props and scenery. The dressing room and toilet you know.
At the Sunrise, there is a stage that functions well for musicians, no sets and no props, and no one cares if you see them moving about. But the depth of the stage does not allow for a really useful set, because it eats up the entire space. Come to think of it, the wings are also too tight in width.
Plays need some room. Actors need a really good set that they can use and move in easily. Trust me; I have worked in small theaters, but most of the time the building accommodated the set. There is a difference between tight and crippling, and I think the stage at the Sunrise is just too cripplingly small.
The exception was when my pal Elaine Bromka brought her brilliant one-woman show, “Tea For Three,” which fit well — as did Mitch Capel and Sonny Kelly with “The Colors of Courage,” and the wonderful evening of storytellers. The stage truly fits only small and unique situations.
The dressing rooms are tiny. And for a male/female cast, they are tight beyond tight. And with an upstairs/downstairs setup, getting to the stage can be a problem. There is a shared toilet under the stairs, and no sink except in the dressing room. Awkward.
Bouser mentions the Temple Theatre in Sanford, which seems to draw many local actors, particularly young people from a conservatory setting through the network of their arts groups. They may or may not have professional actors in major roles in the production.
Moore County’s very own Judson Theatre Company provides professional actors, along with local talent with professional training who get to work with longtime professionals.
As Morgan Sills of Judson Theatre Company knows, more rehearsal is always better. Adding even three days to a short rehearsal period, as he has done, exponentially improves the product. Community theaters rarely put in a professional eight-hour day, six days a week, but that is one of the ways you get to really great performances: rehearsal time.
Actors, be they union or non, have to learn lines and learn blocking. But more than that, they need to be able to put time into developing the character who would say and do these things. Time. Time is the most valuable and costly commodity for theaters.
Sills is in his sixth year of developing an audience for Judson Theatre Company, and he is willing to give us the time to get behind having a real theater company here in Moore County. The Sunrise does not wish to give up the screen time of films to accommodate rehearsals, and they may be right. But that does not lead to a theater company and greatness. Community theater needs very much the same space and commitment, and the blend that Temple is doing is certainly valid and entertaining.
Mickey and Judy could “just get a barn and put up a show,” but let’s not forget they had MGM doing it for them.
Sills is slaving away to develop, over time, a professional regional theater. We can and should support professional and community theater both, but the Sunrise is not that theater.
Why are we talking about the Sunrise when we have Judson Theatre Company at Owens Auditorium doing exactly what Bouser is talking about? Theater thrives with audiences, and you should go to see the professional productions of Judson Theatre Company. They are already working hard to bring Sandhills audiences an experience to treasure at a cost you can afford, right here at home.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired here from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.