By Jesse Wood
After exploring options for several years, Ensemble Stage is taking its talents to Banner Elk. This June, the local theatre company will perform its first show at the historic Banner Elk School.
In 2009, the theatre company was born in Blowing Rock, where it operated out of the local elementary school auditorium. As the professional stage company grew, theater officials sought a new permanent home in order to operate year round, schedule shows whenever and accommodate growth.
The group explored moving to West Jefferson a few years back. This was around the same time that the Town of Blowing Rock and Ensemble Stage were engaged in talks about renovating the old downtown firehouse into a theatre. A grand opening in downtown Blowing Rock was even scheduled for 2015, but the group had difficulty raising funds from supporters to renovate a building that the town – not Ensemble Stage – owned.
Throughout the past few years, however, the Town of Banner Elk kept abreast on the developments related to Ensemble Stage. In January 2017, the Town of Banner Elk and Ensemble Stage announced that the historic Banner Elk School would be the stage company’s permanent home.
By the time the first show of the summer, “The Star Spangled Girl,” opens June 16, several months of renovations will be complete. The school’s gymnasium is being converted into a 99-seat theatre. In its new space, the Ensemble Stage will have its own box office, concession area and separate spaces for rehearsal, dressing room and a seam shop.
“We are excited about everything. We’ll have our own space, and we can make up our calendar the way we want to make up our calendar,” Ensemble Stage Director Gary Smith said. “We are like kids in a candy store. Everyday is Christmas for us right now. We are that excited.”
Smith thanked the Town of Banner Elk, the Banner Elk Tourism and Development Authority, the Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce and community members for their “incredible” support in getting the stage ready for summer.
Smith recounted the story of a chamber official visiting the auditorium whenever Smith was painting the ceiling by himself with a roller. “She came back five minutes later and said, ‘Get down. The chamber is hiring someone to paint the ceiling for your.’ Things like that have happened ever since we moved.”
The addition of Ensemble Stage operating in Banner Elk puts another feather in Banner Elk’s cap. During the past couple years, downtown Banner Elk has had a renaissance of sorts, and it started with the town’s purchase of the historic elementary school from Avery County in late 2014.
The town has revitalized its downtown district thanks to donations from Elaine Wold, a resident of Elk River. She has donated proceeds related to the historic school restoration, “Corner on Main” park and additional beautification projects in the downtown area.
With the addition of Ensemble Stage, the Historic Banner Elk School is now nearly filled to capacity. Other tenants include Carolina Mountain Life publication, a book exchange, Buckhead Banner Studios (photography), an art co-op and more.
The theatre will open for summer performances on June 16 with The Star Spangled Girl.
It’s a big deal,” Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly said of Ensemble Stage making its home in Banner Elk. “They are going to be a true asset for Banner Elk and it seems to be a good fit for each other. This summer is going to be really exciting and we’re looking forward to June 16.”
The following are upcoming performances:
- June 16-24: The Star Spangled Girl
- July 7-15: Mary and Myra
- July 29 – Aug. 6: Switzerland
- Aug. 18-26: Art of Murder
The Kids Summer Saturday Theatre performances will also be held throughout June, July and August. For more information, contact the Ensemble Stage at 828-414-1844 or click to www.ensemblestage.com.