HART was founded in 1985 and has grown into one of the Southeast’s most prolific and successful community theater groups, selling out most of its shows and racking up a trophy case full of awards and honors. It has grown from a dedicated band of theater aficionados to a first-class arts institution that continuously pushes the community theater envelope and refuses to rest on its laurels.
HART is an asset to Haywood County and the region in more ways than most imagine. As an arts organization, it provides fantastic opportunities for children, works closely with Western Carolina University, and even hires professional actors for some of its performances. For theatergoers, the experience is almost always a great one that surprises newcomers for its quality.
As an economic asset, HART is as good as it gets. Executive Director Steve Lloyd explains that with just one theater, many successful shows have to close their run while still selling out. That leaves money on the table from potential spectators, and nearly every penny taken in by an arts group like HART ends up back in the community. HART’s record of success speaks for itself. The troupe’s budget has grown from $25,000 annually to $300,000, and it has never had a losing season.
The group is unsurpassed in its contributions to the quality of life for our region. HART is a leader in the arts, and it fits nicely into Waynesville’s growing cuisine and craft beer scene. Like downtown’s Main Street, the region’s arts and crafts, and our vibrant outdoor attractions, HART is an integral part of what makes Waynesville cool.
“We’re not going to the community hat-in-hand crying poverty,” said Lloyd. “We’re saying we’re successful and we’re doing really well. And if we can make this building, we can transform this organization that impacts the entire community and creates jobs for a lot of people.”
Lloyd is right. Ever go to downtown Waynesville on a weekend night prior to one of HART’s big shows. If you do, you’ll see theatergoers filling local restaurants, perhaps browsing in downtown galleries and shops. On Wednesdays and Saturdays HART turns its parking lot over to the farmer’s market that attracts hundreds of people to the downtown area, a fitting example of the kind of partnerships that has turned this organization into a community institution.
A community institution? I’m certain many of those actors and supporters who helped guide the troupe through its early struggles — when it lurched among different performance venues and struggled mightily to find financial supporters — may have doubted the day would come when that’s how people would refer to HART. But it’s the truth, and Haywood County is a much better place to call home because of it.
(To learn more about HART’s Stage II project, visit www.harttheater.com.)