Sometimes I hear people complaining that Mount Airy shouldn’t try to be something it’s not. And what it presumably is not is “artsy.”
During these discussions, I lose the thread of the argument as to why a town should not try to be something it’s not. Perhaps it’s the Southern prohibition against “gettin’ above your raising.” Or maybe it’s a distaste for things “artsy.” Quite frankly, the argument mystifies me.
But whatever it is, the horse is already out of the barn, at least as far as the dramatic arts are concerned. For a small city, there’s a whole lot of theater going on here in Mount Airy.
Surry Arts Council’s Surry Arts Players, being the 800-pound gorilla of the theatrical arts in town, have something going on all the time. Along with the regular community theater, there’s the teen and children’s theater as well.
Then across the street, there’s The Dewey Decimal Players teen theatre troupe at the library. The library also has Young Actor Workshops a couple of times a year, grooming kids for the teen troupe when they turn 12.
Just up the road in Ararat, Virginia, there’s the Cherry Orchard Theater at the Levering Orchard where they have a summer season; and there used to be a group at the Senior Center, aptly named the Well Seasoned Players but they seem to have gone dormant.
There’s also the Nonesuch Playmakers, an independent troupe founded by Brack and Angela Llewellyn. That’s a huge sign right there. When theater groups just start springing up independent of organizational or governmental support, you know you’re in a theater hotspot.
Even some churches get in on the action. Aside from the usual Christmas and Easter plays and pageants, some churches do a couple of other plays during the year. And I doubt that this is an exhaustive list.
And yet, it’s still not enough for the theater folks. Mount Airy actors frequently hit the roads to do plays with Foothills Theater in Elkin, at the Willingham Theater in Yadkinville, to the Stokes Arts Council, and even all the way to Winston-Salem for the many opportunities there.
Another sign of a robust theater scene is original work, and Mount Airy can tick off that box too. The Cherry Orchard Theater does a lot of Frank Levering’s plays and other local and semi-local playwrights. It’s not unheard of for a church play to be written by someone at the church, and Brack Llewellyn writes some of Nonesuch’s plays.
Which brings us to the reason I started thinking about this. Last Sunday I went to see “Hicksville” which the Nonesuch Playmakers were producing at L.H. Jones Auditorium as a fundraiser for the Senior Center.
I was intrigued by it from the moment I typed a listing for the event in the Mount Airy News community calendar. “Hicksville” is, or was, a new comedy written by Brack Llewellyn and last week’s production was its first. That caught my eye. Seeing a play so close to its creation is not an opportunity that comes along every day.
It’s not easy to write a three-act play. I imagine it’s even harder to write a good one. And Brack had chosen the unlikely premise of an American winning an English village in a card game and the hi-jinks that ensue with a large cast of local village oddballs. Seemed like a ‘fish out of water’ story with a side order of quirky characters. I admired the chutzpah of this ballsy choice and marked my calendar then and there.
The thing about community theater from a theatergoer’s point of view is that it’s a total crapshoot. The people involved aren’t being paid and are giving up a huge chunk of their time for the sheer love of the art. And sometimes, that love is not accompanied by an equal measure of talent and skill. But sometimes, it is.You never know ‘til you get there.
Generally, I have found there’s one or two people who are really, really good, two or three more who are adequate, and the rest are doing their level best to keep up and having a grand old time doing it. And that’s with a play that has already proven itself on or off Broadway. Here, we were going in with an amateur cast performing an untested play. There was every possibility of a train wreck. It was entirely possible I could spend two hours watching a big old turkey egg being laid.
But I am happy to report, no trains were wrecked and no eggs were laid.
The play was really good. And funny. I mean really funny. First, it made me snicker, followed quickly by another snicker, which quickly morphed into a giggle or two, then a chortle, and all of a sudden, a big, long howl of a guffaw, followed by the thought,”Did I just hear what I thought I heard?”
Why, yes. Yes I did hear that. So I laughed again. And by now the actors had trilled along to the next bit of silliness and the rest of the audience was laughing at that and I was still laughing at the last bit, and on it went.
And somehow, and I have no idea how Brack and his actors did it, but the characters were not just one-dimensional caricatures. There was humanity behind their silliness. Brack said afterward that it was his great good fortune to find the cast that he had. I agree. He beat the usual odds by a long shot.
The flip side of the crapshoot of community theater is all you risk is a few dollars and a few hours of your life. Well, “Hicksville” was $10 well spent and I wouldn’t take those two hours back for anything.
So yeah, the “artsy” horse is already out of the barn. You can try closing the barn door now, but we all know how that usually works out.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.