New stage to open next month
Sitting on a bench one recent sunny afternoon, Steven Lloyd gazes to his right, a big smile immediately rolling across his face.
“When I look over there, I see potential — a lot of potential,” he said.
Executive director for the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville, Lloyd is situated underneath the large awning of the 10,000-square-foot building. To his right, numerous construction workers are putting the final touches on the brand new second stage structure, the Daniel & Belle Fangmeyer Theatre, which sits proudly mere feet from its older sibling.
“It’s the potential for a lot of concert events, theatre events, community events, outdoor events with people sitting on the hillside, and the restaurant, which will make it possible for people to come and eat before a show,” he said. “This new stage will catapult our theatre into one of the best production companies in the Southeast.”
The 9,000-square-foot second stage (with around a 140 person capacity) has been years in the making. Breaking ground in 2014, the building is expected to open to the public the weekend of June 25-26, with the production of “All My Sons” aiming for an Aug. 5 opening. Of the $1.2 million price tag, HART was able to raise around $1 million of that through the generous support of many longtime donors and supporters along with a few new ones.
“The more people you have, the better off you are,” Lloyd said. “The truth is that you’re building a foundation of support. All of those people who have given thousands of dollars all the way down to $10, whether it’s large or small, are invested in what you’re trying to do, so you’ve got this army of people behind you.”
Lloyd pointed to the fact of how strong the foundation of the theatre is — in its vision and its run of sold-out productions — which gives supporters a piece of mind in knowing just what their donations are going toward.
“People like giving to things that are stable, and all along I’ve been clear that this is my home and I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said. “You’re building a legacy and people have faith in what you say, and know you’ll stick around to follow through with it.”
And stick around he has. At 62, Lloyd has been executive director of the theatre for the last 26 years. As part of a (now defunct) statewide initiative (Edwin Gill Theatre Project) that brought plays and productions to every school district every year, Lloyd came to Western North Carolina as a visiting artist at Haywood Community College. At that time (1990), HART was being run out of The Strand in downtown Waynesville.
“HART didn’t really have anybody running it that knew how to run a theatre. They kind of went from show to show without any real planning,” Lloyd said. “We were in The Strand until 1993, when the fire marshal kicked us out because the building was not up to code and we were just renting the space. We moved to HCC and started fundraising for the new building [which was opened in 1997].”
In the decades since the current building opened, HART has proven itself not only an artistic hub of Western North Carolina, but also an economic driver for Waynesville and greater Haywood County. With a $2.5 million a year impact on the local economy, HART continues to grow, physically and financially, which is due in no small part to Lloyd’s day-in-day-out vigor to put his theatre on the national map.
“In this day and age, the arts are being chopped out of communities, out of classrooms, and out of the national dialogue, and yet there’s still this many people that want to support HART,” Lloyd smiled. “We’ve grown in a very steady way, never putting anything out there that was too outrageous to achieve. It’s been very slow, very consistent, and we’ve proven that we’re good for the economy of the community. We make money for everybody. We have a lot of tourists that come here and are drawn to the theatre. They spend the night here, eat here, and spend a lot more money here — we’ve been able to make the economic argument that the arts are good for business.”
A top-notch theater, though, does not necessarily ensure financial viability. Sure, you might have captivating productions hit the stage, but how do you get people in the door, how do you keep the books and costs balanced in order to ensure a future?
“I’m a very good businessman. My grandfather owned a carnival, so I grew up in a carnival family,” Lloyd smiled. “I was kind of like ‘Toby Tyler’ as a kid growing up, and that meant every night we were sitting down and counting money. I grew up in the business side of show business. I also never got seduced into expecting a lot of grants and government support. I’ve always operated this theater by promoting ideas and productions that can pay for themselves. Any project we take on has to pay for itself, anything from the town and state is extra, but we’re not dependent on it, which helps us when cuts are made at those government levels.”
With the second stage just weeks away from opening, Lloyd is looking forward to the new space and what it will bring, in terms of productions and opportunities, one of which being the creation of a youth drama program. And yet, one wonders, after 26 years and counting at the helm, if Lloyd is getting ready to hand off the torch to the next generation of HART. He chuckled at the query.
“God willing, I expect I’ll still be doing this in 10 years. I have no desire to retire — this is what I love to do,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to getting a bigger staff as we grow financially, so then I’ll have a little more freedom to come and go and not be locked into being here 60 hours a week, with rehearsals every evening, shows every weekend. I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t have this place, and I think I’ll always feel that way.”
Want to go?
The new second stage building of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville will open to the public all day on Saturday, June 25. There will be a private reception for donors on Sunday, June 26. The first production in the new facility will be “All My Sons,” which is expected to open on Friday, Aug. 5.
The upcoming HART productions are as follows: “Legally Blonde — The Musical” (May 20-June 12), “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (June 17-July 3), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (July 8-31), “All My Sons” (Aug. 5-21), “One Slight Hitch” (Aug. 26-Sept. 11), “Into The Woods” (Sept. 16-Oct. 16), and “The Mystery of Irma Vep” (Oct. 21-30).