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By Jesse Wood
Jan. 6, 2013. Mark Wilson, the founder of the Blowing Rock Stage Company, passed away in Charlotte on Christmas Day. He was 56 years old.
Wilson was a captivating personality, a creative visionary who started the first professional theatre company in Blowing Rock in the spring of 1986. Born in Raleigh, Wilson attended Appalachian State University.
He was producer, director, writer and actor of the company until 1997 when he and the board of directors of the theatre company parted ways.
“Mark was brilliant,” Kim Rogers, a former volunteer, board member and president of the Blowing Rock Stage Company, said on Monday. “You meet people that are so intelligent, sometimes they have a hard time living on Earth.”
For most of its existence, the Blowing Rock Stage Company operated out of the Blowing Rock Elementary School, selling out show after show in the packed little auditorium. Only a handful of summer productions were produced each year in the beginning. With 221 seats and no aisle down the middle, Wilson compared the entire seating arrangement to the orchestra section in a 1994 interview with Tim Baxter that has since been archived on YouTube.
“[Those are] the best seats in the house of any Broadway house, so the people coming out of town from Washington, New York and Florida are laughing because they are getting off-Broadway-style theatre [for the] ticket price we are selling them for and sitting within spitting distance, pardon the expression, of the stage,” Wilson said.
The Blowing Rock Stage Company was modeled after the Flat Rock Playhouse and the Barter Theatre and many of Wilson’s shows were first-time runs.
“They would premiere here and that was a big deal for a show to premiere here,” Rogers said. “That was a big deal.”
The Blowing Rock Stage Company gained a reputation beyond the High Country and the entire state. Wilson’s shows were listed in the theater calendars of the New York Times, and Blowing Rock became a place where talented actors wanted to engage in their craft.
Actors, Rogers said, enjoyed working in Blowing Rock because it felt like vacation – working in the High Country as opposed to New York City, for example.
“Because of that we saw really good talent come here,” Rogers said.
She added that Wilson also excelled at casting.
“Obviously he knew what he was doing because if you look back at the history of the shows. He had more sellouts than any other director,” Rogers said. “He just had a knack for putting the right people in the right shows. He did that over and over again, but he didn’t really know how to make things bigger and how to grow it, and obviously neither did the Hayes Center.”
The expansion of the Blowing Rock Stage Company was the impetus for constructing the Hayes Performing Arts Center. Because it operated out of the auditorium of the Blowing Rock Elementary School, year-round theatre was out of the question. Construction of the $10-million Hayes Center finished in 2006 but went into foreclosure in 2012 after being overcome with debt and other pitfalls.
The Blowing Rock Stage Company essentially ended with the demise of the Hayes Center as a performance venue. It was purchased by Samaritan’s Purse in the foreclosure auction.
“It just died for lack of a solution basically,” Rogers said.
Janice Burns, the wife of the late, longtime Blowing Rocket editor Jerry Burns, said that Wilson, who she described as “very creative,” visited the Burns’ residence before starting the theater company.
“Mark came to our house to talk with Jerry about his idea, and, of course, Jerry thought it was a great idea and [their relationship] sort of went from there,” Mrs. Burns said. “[Jerry] thought [the theatre company] was good for Blowing Rock.”
Jerry Burns would become one of the original board members of the Blowing Rock Stage Company. (In another video archived on YouTube, Wilson recognized Mr. and Mrs. Burns, thanking them for their longtime support of the Blowing Rock Stage Company.)
Speaking on Monday, Baxter, who interviewed Wilson on television many years ago, said he met Wilson in the early-to-mid 90s while producing live morning television and reminisced with him over the phone a couple years ago when the video footage was archived on the Internet.
“What he and Jerry Burns and some of the board members made happen back in the early 90s will probably never be repeated in the area again,” Baxter said. “It was a magical time. You are talking about summer stock that was equal in many ways to a Broadway production and to have that in our area was pretty amazing.”
After leaving the High Country and the Blowing Rock Stage Company, those that knew Wilson said he went on to become a successful realtor. Read his obituary below.
Mark Cleveland Wilson, 56, died December 25, 2013 in Charlotte, NC.
He was born on June 7, 1957 in Raleigh, NC.
Mark attended Appalachian State University and graduated from UNC-Charlotte. He founded the Blowing Rock Stage Company in 1986 where he was the producer and director until 1997. He was also a writer and actor.
He is survived by his mother, Ann Wilson of Greensboro; father and step mother, Larry and Katherine Wilson of Raleigh; sister, Laurie Whiteside of Gastonia; step sister, Leita Perry of Raleigh; aunt, Carolyn Altman of Raleigh; special nieces, Erinn and Sarah Whiteside of Gastonia; and numerous other nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be at 2:00 p.m., on January 2, 2014 at First Presbyterian Church on Salisbury St., Raleigh. A Visitation will follow.
Condolences may be sent online by visiting www.mcleanfuneral.com
McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia is serving the Wilson Family.