Archived Arts & Entertainment

Haywood theatre enters second act

art frIt may look like a grassy field to some, but to Steven Lloyd, it’s a window of opportunity.

Lloyd, executive director of the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville, is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to bring a second major theater stage to the beloved local theatrical institution. 

HART already stages more than a dozen shows a year, entertaining thousands of theater patrons, that run the gamut from locals to tourists to second-home owners. The caliber of HART shows is a major notch in the county’s cultural arts scene and quality of life draw.

“We’ve become a major engine for the economic development for the community,” Lloyd said.

The addition of a second main-stage theater building will allow HART to put on even more shows — and give existing shows longer runs.

“The reason this new facility is important to the community at large is it will allow us to add more revenue, staff and more variety in our presentations,” Lloyd said. 

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The facility is estimated to cost around $950,000. Since kicking off the fundraiser in July, HART has already pulled in $125,000 and counting from more than 100 donors. 

Originally presented in early 2008, the plans fell onto the backburner with the recession. Lloyd said the community enthusiasm has always been there for the project and now seems the appropriate time to move forward.

“If you want to change the economy, you’ve got to do something. Everybody sits back and expects someone to come to the rescue,” he said. “You need an entrepreneurial spirit to see windows of opportunity when they come along, and this is a window of opportunity.”

Between May and October, the main season for HART, the theater has no problem filling the seats for its shows.

To the contrary, the problem is that the shows don’t stay on stage long enough leaving potential ticket-buyers unable to see shows. HART has to shut down a production’s run prematurely to start getting ready for the next show on the schedule.

It takes at least three weeks to build and prepare the set and that means downtime between shows to allow for the construction. A second theater would solve that. By providing the cast and crew with a second option, each show would get the treatment it deserves and alleviate issues of time constraint and limited structural space.

“Because of the limitations of our stage, we have to close early each time to build the next show,” Lloyd said. “During that 26-week season, we’re closed half the time. This new facility will allow us to go back and forth between the two, which means one solid season.”

The existing main stage theater is 11,000-square-feet with 250 seats. The second venue is planned to be 6,000-square-feet holding between 150 to 180 attendees, depending on what’s being presented.

The possibilities range from small plays to dinner theater, drama camps to acting classes, cabaret to wedding receptions. It seems the avenues of potential are endless.

“It’ll be much better to hold something over and be able to add performances, because that means you’re running to capacity and not wasting resources,” Lloyd said.

Though normally used as a rehearsal area the small black box room backstage in the current building transforms into a winter playhouse, which focuses on smaller, more space appropriate productions, seating between 50 to 70 attendees.

“It’ll look hugely successful because you come in and can’t find a seat. But, if we did it on the main stage, it would look like a failure,” Lloyd said.

Likewise, the new 150-seat venue will be perfect for shows that are too big for the backstage theater but too small for the main stage.

“We need that middle facility to fit that audience,” Lloyd said.

Aiming to appear similar to the current facility, with barn style features of wood walls and tin roofing, the project is again being designed by Waynesville architect Joe Sam Queen with assistance from his daughter, Sara, who is also an architect.

Besides seating capacity, the building would also house a professional kitchen for caterers, dressing room, dormitory for long-term stay actors and much-needed storage.

To allow for flexibility, the room will be built as a large open space equipped with risers, which can be reconfigured easily, and drapery used to create the separate rooms.

“We have a traditional stage here, and that’s great because you want to be able to play around with that,” Lloyd said of the existing main stage. “But with this I could see the entire interior of the building becoming part of the play. The main stage is much more spectacle driven, but everything is at a distance. We want this to be much more intimate.”

Lloyd is happy with the fundraising success so far.

“If we’re lucky, and it continues on the pace it’s going, we could be in a position to break ground next year, next summer,” Lloyd said. “We’re looking to raise money throughout the community and a substantial amount will be looked for in grants.”

A longtime board member at HART, Mieko Thomson was part of the fundraising for the first building. She sees the latest plans as an important step for Waynesville and Haywood County, stressing the importance of supporting the arts.

“I participate in this because theater enriches the lives of the people. It’s not only entertaining, but it opens up the horizon of views and education,” said Thompson, a Realtor. “Without donations, we cannot build. This is an investment of the future, not only of the theater, but also the community. Next year is really important; we need big donors.”

Echoing that same sentiment, HART supporter Steve Wall, a local pediatrician whose wife is also a HART board member, views the theater as a worthwhile cause that only breeds positive results.

“HART has become such a great institute for Haywood County. In tough economic times, the arts scene can be such a driving force in a community,” Wall said. “It adds to the overall progress and prosperity in the area. As a pediatrician, I think it’s great for the kids. It keeps them active in literature and drama, which is a great exercise for discipline as they intellectually and emotionally grow.”

When he took over, Lloyd said the annual budget was $25,000. Today, it’s $300,000. In its almost three decades of existence, the theater has never had a losing season or run a deficit. It’s broken box office records each subsequent year and looks to continue that trend.

“We’re not going to community hat-in-hand crying poverty. We’re saying we’re successful and we’re doing really well,” Lloyd said. “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 has a vision of connecting all the dots in the community, creating a spider web with the theater as a centerpiece and catalyst for the other lines of commerce. He said though tourism dollars spent in Haywood County were up last year, lodging was down. He hopes to remedy this by offering packages that combines discounted theater tickets with booking a stay in a motel or a bed and breakfast.

“If people come to this theater, you pretty much will have to stay the night, and that’s great,” Lloyd said.

Optimistic for the future of HART, Lloyd points to the impeccable track record of the theater. Not sticking close to shore, the organization has a long-held philosophy of taking risks and going down the road less traveled, which seems to have made all the difference.

“Most theaters around here play it safe and do comfortable audience material. We do shows nobody else will do,” he said. “We’ve set a pretty high standard of quality. We’ve laid the groundwork to be one of the major theater companies in this region.”

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