By Katie Benfield
Ensemble Stage’s first summer season in Banner Elk has come to a close, but that doesn’t mean the renowned theatre is going to be taking a break! It has already begun preparing for the fall season of performances, the first one being on October 28.
The first season that Ensemble Stage spent in its new home was a major success, resulting in almost every show of the last production being sold out.
“We sold out 6 of the 7 performances, and at the final performance, there were only about five seats remaining,” Gary Smith, Artistic Director of Ensemble Stage, said. “We almost sold out an entire run of a show, and we’ve never even been close to doing that before.”
The move to Banner Elk, and to a permanent home for the theatre company, meant more than just successful performances. According to Smith, it meant the actors having their own separate and permanent dressing rooms, a green room, a place for rehearsals and, of course, the immaculate auditorium.
While the move from Blowing Rock to Banner Elk was a big one, it was a great decision for Ensemble Stage. Not only did each and every show have a wonderful turnout, but Banner Elk was nothing but welcoming and inclusive to the theatre company.
“The town itself has been so incredibly supportive of us,” Smith said. “We couldn’t ask for anything better. Every day we come out here, it feels like Christmas morning. It’s so exciting.”
The 2017 summer season was an amazing success, and it can only be expected that the fall season will be so, as well.
This fall season, Ensemble Stage is bringing back some classics that we all know and love. However, two of them will be returning to the High Country revamped and in a unique and interesting format.
“Our staged plays are done as kind of homage to the old radio plays that they used to air back in the 30s and 40s. All the sound effects are done live on stage,” Smith said. “We also add a little bit of the theatrical element, like lighting to set the mood in different places.”
The actors and actresses cast in the two radio plays use their voices to portray action, emotion and emphasis.
“Even though they are at a microphone, they still have to tell the story with their voice,” Smith said, “and people find it really cool to see all the sound effects done live on stage.”
For example, if it’s raining during a scene, someone on stage will create that sound. According to Smith, each time they do a radio play, they have on hand a cabbage. When the cabbage is hit with a big mallet, it sounds just like a body punch. Along with this, if someone is walking through the snow, audience members can watch as someone live on stage crunches corn meal between their hands to replicate the sound of shoes stomping through the snow.
“These shows have become very popular recently, and people are always asking us to do them,” Smith said, “and it’s just fun to see.”
The first radio play that Ensemble Stage will be Dracula, premiering on October 28. However, as familiar as Dracula is to most of us, this particular portrayal will have a little bit of a twist.
“Instead of Dracula living in a castle somewhere in England,” Smith said, “we are having him relocate to an old house right here in Banner Elk. There will be a lot of local references. It’ll be the same plot, the same characters, everything will just be localized.”
The second radio show that will be performed is A Christmas Carol on December 1. Just as it is with Dracula, the actors and actresses cast in this performance will need to be able to express themselves using only their voices.
The third production of the fall season is not a radio show, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. The annual An Ensemble Christmas: A Holiday Musical Variety Show will be taking place from December 15 through December 17.
“It’s very fast paced, it’s a lot of songs, lots of dancing, women in pretty dresses and guys in tuxedos,” Smith said, “plus we will be throwing in a couple of silly sketches.”
An Ensemble Christmas lasts around an hour and ten minutes, and the singers are able to fit in about 30 to 40 songs, all completed with choreography.
“Each song is choreographed by a professional,” Smith said. “There is a whole movement to each song, and each song has a kind of theme. It’s basically its own little story.”
Auditions for these unique and incredible performances will be held on September 16, and they are open for everyone. Actors or singers between the ages of 5 and 95 are welcome to try out for the upcoming performances, as there are over 30 roles to be filled.
“The schedule and commitment is a lot less demanding for the fall season,” Smith said, “so it’s a chance to get the community involved and part of it. Everyone involved still gets the chance to be part of a production that’s being put on by a professional theatre.”
For the two radio shows, Smith said, Ensemble Stage is looking for people who can work really well with their voices.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who don’t have the look of the leading man but have the voice of a leading man to star in a production as the leading man,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s all about the voice.”
For An Ensemble Christmas, Ensemble Stage is looking for people who are good singers and can dance.
“The singers aren’t just standing there and singing, they are dancing,” Smith said. “It’s a really special production, so we want good singers for that one.
Auditions are by appointment only. For more information, visit the Audition Page for Ensemble Stage.
To purchase tickets for the fall season productions, visit the online box office for times, prices and to purchase online.