“Theater is about life and about the world,” says Gary Smith of Banner Elks’s Ensemble Stage. Ensemble Stage is the newest performing arts addition in the High Country town, complimenting the already thriving Lees-McRae Summer Theater Program.
Banner Elk brings visitors back to tradition, allowing kids and adults to use their imagination and experience a deeply connected form of entertainment. With the area’s complex culinary scene– from Banner Elk Winery, Flat Top Mountain Brewery and a variety of farm-to-table restaurants– “dinner and a show” is brought back to life in this small, yet enriching town.
Originally from Blowing Rock, Ensemble Stage joined up with Banner Elk after settling into the renovated Historic Banner Elk School. Smith, and partner Lisa Lamont, have revived old-fashioned techniques such as manual, live sound effects and radio shows that play on local air waves, to bring audiences back in time to experience the way things used to be. History is often intertwined with the shows, and the characters are encouraged to truly understand the characters they are portraying. A lot of research goes into selection, to ensure productions are new and unique. “We want our patrons to experience something different,” adds Smith, who speaks heartwarmingly about what he does. They read 80-100 potential plays yearly.
Stage Ensemble will present professional productions like Dracula during Halloween, and the festive, yearly Christmas musical reminiscent of classic Andy William’s shows from the 70’s. Smith likes to press the envelope as well, featuring captivating plays that resonate on an emotional, and sometimes uncomfortable, level. Switzerland, a phycological thriller, will be on display July 29-August 6.
Currently, they are working to polish their space in the 1939 structure. Once a gymnasium, the auditorium seats a modest 100, to keep with the intimate feel Ensemble Stage is all about.
“One of the things I think is so cool about theater is that the kid that can’t find their “thing”, can find themselves,” says Smith. A sense of satisfaction and a more outgoing nature sets in after a child has been exposed to theater through a Stage Ensemble program. “It’s not about being an actor, it’s about interaction,” Smith explains.
Lees-McRae Summer Theater
Lees-McRae Summer Theater takes place on the picturesque college campus in Banner Elk, and features professional musicals throughout the summer season, providing yet another entertainment option for locals and tourists.
It takes over 100 people to pull off each show; from costume designers, carpenters, actors, and the Director of Theater, Dr. Janet Speer. Dr. Speer’s passion overflows into the program, and she works to make their shows approachable for anyone who’d like to see them.
The theater has been recently brushed up with new seating and carpet, and can host up to 750-780 guests. Legally Blonde the Musical is the next showy musical to take the stage, and will feature peppy numbers inspired by the movie everyone fell in love with. Expect many songs based off the storyline, along with high kicks, killer voices, vibrant costumes and a furry, four-legged star as well. Legally Blonde the Musical will run July 28 – August 05.
Banner Elk’s professional performing arts scene is bringing attention to a crucial part of our culture; live performing. It’s a trade often overlooked, but so incredibly captivating and special. There is just something about seeing glittering costumes, cleverly crafted props and pure passion before your very own eyes, rather than through a television screen. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good movie, but I’m genuinely ecstatic to have been exposed to such a beautiful side of the arts.