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Welcome Home: Ensemble Stage Takes Up Residence at Historic Banner Elk School

By Jessica Isaacs

After building a name for itself in the Blowing Rock community, the professional theatre company Ensemble Stage will soon have a home in a new corner of the High Country at the Historic Banner Elk School.

Effective Feb. 1, the new partnership between the stage company and the Town of Banner Elk was made official Monday night when the town council unanimously elected to adopt Ensemble as a permanent resident of the school.

Ensemble Stage Artistic Director Gary Smith said the organization has been searching for a permanent home since it was first established in 2009. Over time, it has explored many possibilities in its first hometown of Blowing Rock, like converting the old fire station into a theater, as well as others in Ashe County.

“We really could never get anything worked out, and we had been contacted a few years ago about the space there at the historic school. We were contacted again a few months ago to see if we were interested in talking about it again,” said Smith. “Like I said, we have been searching for some place to call our home to have more control over our schedule and to be able to offer things year-round on a regular basis. They had a vote last night to accept the partnership agreement and we’re really excited about going over there.”

Historic Banner Elk School. Photo by Jesse Wood.
Historic Banner Elk School. Photo by Jesse Wood.

The partnership agreement will convert the school’s gymnasium into a 99-seat theater space complete with lobby, concessions and a box office, as well as provide five classroom spaces as permanent homes for Ensemble’s rehearsal space, green room, scene shop, dressing rooms and prop and costume storage; not to mention, the school building offers ample public parking and easy handicapped accessibility.

“It’s going to be a big move, and it’s going to be a hard move since we’re not going to interrupt our flow or the things we’re planning on doing,” Smith said. “We’ll open our first summer show over there in Banner Elk this June, so it’s going to be a very short kind of conversion. It’s pretty awesome.”

Smith and the Ensemble team will continue working with Appalachian State University and now look forward to a strengthened relationship with the nearby summer theatre program at Lees-McRae College, which will undoubtedly make the town a hot spot for summer entertainment in the area.

“Banner Elk is going to be the place to go see theatre in the High Country. I’m looking forward to everything about it, frankly,” said Smith. “The arts is such a vital part of a community if they want to grow and be viable, and the Town of Banner Elk is wonderful about that and they value what live theatre brings.

“It’s going to be wonderful to have this partnership with the town and having the council so completely behind us. The town manager, Rick Owen, has been really instrumental in getting things put together for us and being able to answer any questions and they have all just been so receptive. We really want people over there to know how excited we are to be there.”

Smith and company are also excited to see a coming together of their loyal following in Blowing Rock united with folks in Banner Elk and surrounding communities.

“Those who have come to see our shows and have been supporters over these years understand that we’ve been looking for a place to call a permanent space, and I’ve already heard from many of them who say, ‘We are so happy for you and we’ll be seeing you over there,’” Smith said. “I am hoping this will be the response we get. The people who have truly supported us know that we have exhausted every possibility we could in Blowing Rock to be able to stay there and it just wasn’t available there, but Banner Elk came through in spades.unnamed

“We really do want to offer a big thanks and appreciation to the town of Blowing Rock and to our patrons over there for supporting us through the years and we have felt honored and privileged to be a part of that town.”

Ensemble’s first summer professional season in the new space will begin in June and run through mid-September with seven performances each of four new productions, followed by an expanded fall/winter season in 2017. Watch for updates, as the season’s titles will be announced in February and tickets will go on sale beginning March 1.

The Historic Banner Elk School is located at 185 Azalea Circle SE in downtown Banner Elk. To learn more, visit Ensemble at ensemblestage.com or call 828-414-1844.