By Harley Nefe
Ensemble Stage in Banner Elk is opening its curtains to their main stage performances this summer season, starting with a special fundraising cabaret this weekend starring Laura Hodos that is benefiting the organization after a difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The professional theater normally begins its main stage performances in the middle of June, but because staff were waiting for restrictions to ease up, shows are scheduled to start at the end of July this year.
“The last year has been really difficult because of the basic cost of trying to put on a production in professional theater,” said Gary Smith, Artistic Director for Ensemble Stage.
Apart from the pandemic forcing performances to be cancelled and affecting business, Ensemble Stage has to follow the guidelines from both, the CDC and the professional actor’s union.
“The actor’s union has a little more stringent guidelines than what everybody else is doing,” explained Lisa Lamont, Managing Director for Ensemble Stage. “Actors won’t be wearing masks, but we are requiring the audience to. There’s a whole list of things that the actor’s union is having us do to keep the performers and audience safe.”
In order to host professional actors, like Hodos, there’s a lot of protocols Ensemble Stage has to fulfill.
“It’s been really trying for us to come to agreements and figure things out,” Smith said. “The last year was really tough, but what made it so tremendous was the support we’ve gotten from the community of Banner Elk. Residents, the businesses, the Town, the Banner Elk TDA, the Kiwanis Club and many other groups and people have been incredibly supportive with everything from really encouraging words to donations of money and gifts to help us keep going when we couldn’t do anything. This year’s season is really dedicated to them. It’s a model to this town and what they have meant in their support for us.”
An example of friends coming to support Ensemble Stage is Hodos’s cabaret show, which is titled Julie and Mary and Ethel and Babs, taking place July 17 and 18. The show is a tribute to four icons of Broadway: Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand. It features songs that the audience may be familiar with plus others along with anecdotes and fun trivia tidbits.
“It’s always a treat when we get the opportunity to have Laura Hodos come be with us,” Smith said. “She’s a Cardinal Award winning actress. She’s hard to book. She’s a tremendous singer and entertainer. We’ve been lucky enough to have her.”
Hodos, a New York City native, is a multi-award-winning singer, actor, improv artist and cabarista. She has performed from Maine to Florida to Los Angeles and even internationally in Tokyo. People in the High Country may remember her from The Love List and Killing Time at Ensemble Stage. Hodos has also performed locally with Blowing Rock Stage Company in Leading Ladies and Daylight Spirits.
Hodos, Lamont and Smith have been friends for a number of years.
“She has such a bubbly personality, it’s wonderful to watch her and be a part of what she’s doing,” Lamont said.
Smith added, “She’s the type of person that when she walks into a room and you talk to her for five seconds, you can not help but feel good and smile. She’s just one of those people, and then to hear her sing and see her talent is just icing on the cake.
Hodos agreed to do the benefit cabaret because she understands how hard the past year has been for Ensemble Stage.
“It has been a long and difficult and frustrating road,” Hodos said. “Everyone I know has had to pivot and figure out how to make theater in the time of Covid work, and I think that it has actually honed a lot of everyone’s skills. This cabaret show, I’m so proud of it. I love this show so much. I love music, and I always say that one song can bring back a thousand memories. I love how theater, live performances and cabarets can bring back a thousand memories that you have and let you escape and have that tiny bit of remembrance of joy. That’s what I love so much about cabarets — it’s not how these songs have affected me, but how they affect everyone as a collective. I think it’s so cool and so fascinating.”
If you do not get a chance to see the cabaret performance, there will be plenty of other events happening this summer and fall at Ensemble Stage. On the schedule are two shows in the kids theater series, three main stage theater shows includings comedies and a suspense thriller, along with staged radio play. More information about the upcoming performances and ticket sales can be found online at http://www.ensemblestage.com/ or by calling 828-414-1844.
“We hope we can inspire people as much as we can to come back to the theater and come see us and come have a good time and come have dinner at the restaurants that are here and support this community that has been so incredibly supportive of us,” Smith said.