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HART Theatre — The Women Behind the Curtain

Candice Dickinson, (from left) Nichole Sumpter, Sheila Sumpter, Julie Kinter, Steve Lloyd Candice Dickinson, (from left) Nichole Sumpter, Sheila Sumpter, Julie Kinter, Steve Lloyd

It’s been a trying year for HART Theatre. As an establishment that thrives off human engagement and interaction, a pandemic results in many setbacks. Nonetheless, they have risen above the circumstances. The women behind the curtain have been particularly helpful in keeping HART afloat during the uncertainty that was 2020. Rumble recently sat down with several members of the HART family to get their perspectives on where HART currently stands.

Candice Dickinson is the assistant director at HART Theatre. She holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from East Carolina University and has extensive experience as a director, actor and stage producing in New York City, Nebraska and North Carolina. She’s appeared on the HART stage in “The Producers” and “Chicago” and directed “Oliver.” Dickinson was hired when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. Due to the financial strain on the theatre during 2020, Candice remained in her position as a volunteer, doing all she could to keep the heart of HART beating.

Rumble: What were the major challenges presented by 2020? 

Candice: A big challenge was trying to continue serving the community during the pandemic. The nature of theatre is face-to-face and the nature of our theatre is to engage with the community. We knew that people, artists especially, needed an outlet while in isolation. It was important to us to provide that opportunity so we created a virtual performance platform. The actors had individual masked rehearsals with the director or with me. Nichole Sumpter, one of our other staff members, and I have been filming all of the pieces and Nichole has been doing the editing. It’s been a great way for artists to explore and develop solo work through monologues or songs. Almost all of our virtual shows have been donation-based. Any donation, no matter how small, gains a viewer access to the show. We wanted to make sure this entertainment was available to everyone, given the financial burdens 2020 presented, while still helping the theatre.


Rumble: What were some silver linings that came from 2020? 

Candice: There were a lot of silver linings, actually. It was very rewarding to see how much the community cares about our theatre. People were very generous with their donations, and we were so appreciative for that. There also a lot of camaraderie build over the past year. Moments with the artists were extremely meaningful. We could see how much it meant to them, that we were keeping the theatre alive in new ways. The theatre is not “essential” in the traditional sense but to some people, theatre means the world and is “essential” to them personally. During 2020, we saw that we are very important to this community. That means a lot.

Rumble: Along with your skills and talents, there are many other women on staff and serving as leaders on the HART board. What does it mean to you to work with such an amazing group of women? 

Candice: It’s been wonderful working with this group of women. It’s pretty much Steve Lloyd and a bunch of women. Board members Colleen and Emily have been extremely instrumental in helping us. There’s something powerful about a group of women who bind together with common passions and goals. We knew we could adapt and figure out how to make this work.

Rumble: Where do you see HART Theatre five years from now?

Candice: Since I’ve been volunteering or on staff at HART, we’ve been in survival mode. I’m excited about the future of HART. I want us to be where we were before the pandemic and then some. I’m excited about using our outdoor theatre space this spring and summer. COVID is forcing us to use it, which is great. Outdoor theatre is so fun and unique. We will now be a four stage theatre instead of a three stage. Further, we’re using the bistro in a new and different way. It will be more for special events, as opposed to a traditional restaurant. I envision HART thriving, and I’m excited to get reconnected with the community.

Shelia Sumpter has been involved with HART since it started at The Strand, where she served as an actor and choreographer. Working with HART executive director, Steve Lloyd, Shelia helped develop Kids at HART, the theatre’s popular youth drama program. While she currently serves as the director of Kids at HART, she also acts in and choreographs for the adult shows.

Rumble: What were the major challenges presented by 2020? 

Sheila: The challenges that Covid presented have been many. How do we continue to provide our actors and theatregoers with opportunities to experience theatre? We have held classes online and in-person with safe distancing. We had our first young directors class and the first student-directed play, which were performed via YouTube and Zoom. Luckily, we were still able to coach our students who are going through the audition process for college or special programs.

Other opportunities that we have provided, especially for the kids, have been scavenger hunts, trivia games, play readings, past production presentations, all broadcast via Zoom. We have really missed working as actors, directors, choreographers, stage managers and tech crew. We also miss our volunteers who help us so faithfully. We especially miss our audiences who give us the reason for doing what we do.

 

Rumble: What were some silver linings that came out of 2020? 

Sheila: Anytime we get to work with our theatre family, it is a silver lining. We love seeing the passion we experience from the community to get back the art we all enjoy together. Our theatregoers are generous and kind and we miss them very much. They continue to give us support and encouragement. We are also learning new ways to reach out by means such as video productions or live streamed performances.

Rumble: Along with your skills and talents, there are many other women on staff and serving as leaders on the HART board. What does it mean to you to work with such an amazing group of women? 

Sheila: We have a group of talented, creative, intelligent, fun-loving women who all want to see the theatre come back even better. We are all working toward that same goal and we support each other. We collaborate on many levels from artistic to business ideas. It is amazing what a group of women can get done when working together. Steve Lloyd, our fearless leader, has his hands full, but he is up to the challenge. He is always supportive and encourages us to create and visualize.

Nichole Sumpter has been involved with HART since she was a little girl and played a role in “The King and I.” She would attend shows with her mom, Sheila Sumpter, when her mom served as choreographer. Since Nichole graduated college, she’s helped with stage management and administrative work for various shows. More recently, she’s produced the virtual videos aired during the pandemic. She is currently on staff as the theatre’s graphic designer.

Rumble: What were the major challenges presented by 2020? 

Nichole: 2020 was a difficult year for theatre. For us, one of the major challenges was trying to figure out how to reimagine theater and what our season will look like once we’re allowed to have modified performances again. What does this mean for us? Does this mean we do everything outside? Do we have actors quarantine for two weeks before rehearsals start? What happens to the virtual stage? Do we section off the stage and have actors stand in one designated area? This was new territory for all, and a fun challenge to figure out. 

Rumble: What were some silver linings that came from 2020? 

Nichole: Our virtual stage has allowed us to create beautiful pieces of work both in the theatre and outside. My favorite example of this is HART's “In Our Solitude,” which was filmed throughout the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina during the peak of fall. We are also able to give the audience a new perspective through the virtual stage. In our show “Together”, we brought the audience on stage with us. Similarly, Kids at HART was able to offer opportunities like a directing class for high school students where they were able to direct a show that was part of the virtual stage. Lastly, the theater was able to take some time and see what areas of the theater need some renovation or TLC. Currently, we have been working with volunteers to give the theatre an update so that when we are able to open, the theatres will look brand new. 

Rumble: Along with your skills and talents, there are many other women on staff and serving as leaders on the HART board. What does it mean to you to work with such an amazing group of women? 

Nichole: I am lucky to work with such incredible women. Each of these talented women have incredible ideas and the drive to make it happen. I have enjoyed my time bouncing ideas off one another and creating these wonderful projects. Everyone is dedicated to making theater a positive experience for all and helping create a sense of community. They are all incredible directors as well, and I have been lucky enough to have played a part in some of their productions.

Other impactful female volunteers, staff members and board members include Julie Kinter, Bonnie Smith, Colleen Davis and Emily McCurry. When you combine a powerhouse group of women, amazing things happen. While HART looked different in 2020, the pulse of the theatre was very much alive.

Want to help?

If you would like to donate to the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, visit www.harttheatre.org, click on the “Get Involved” tab and scroll down to the “Donate” section. 

As well, to watch the “Virtual Stage” performances by the HART Theatre, you can stream the productions by going to www.harttheatre.org, clicking on the “Current Season” tab and scrolling down to the “Virtual Stage” section. 

For more information, call 828.456.6322 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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