Turnage’s reopening close to ‘Curtain up!’

Published 3:34 am Saturday, September 29, 2007

By Staff
Rehab of 1930s playhouse
has been a 10-year effort
News Editor
Ranee Holbrook has about a month to practice her dance moves.
When the Turnage Theaters Foundation has its gala opening of the restored playhouse on Nov. 3, Holbrook won’t be there in her capacity as the organization’s attorney. She’ll be the little girl who used to participate in the theater’s Maola Dance Contest that happened just before movies would roll.
The nonprofit foundation set out in 1996 to restore the historic theater on Main Street and convert it into a regional performing arts center. The foundation has raised $2.5 million to rehabilitate the 1930s portion of the theater.
That’s all but finished, with just a few paint touch-ups to be done here and there, the plastic to be removed from the carpet and seats and the stage curtain to be hung. The architect is expected to “officially” hand over the keys to the building by a week from Monday.
One of the foundation’s goals is to make the theater experience enjoyable for everyone in Beaufort County, including black residents, said foundation board member Victor Rodgers.
The opening-night gala will feature performances from members of East Carolina University’s School of Theatre and Dance. On the following day, Nov. 4, the foundation will host an open house and offer tours of the facility.
Tickets will range from $12.50 for a child’s seat to $35 for the best seat in the house, Chumbley said. The tickets will soon be available through the foundation’s Web site, said foundation President Jerry Smyre. A regular box office is also part of the theater, but the Web site will offer a convenient way to purchase seats, he said.
Once the first phase of the Turnage project is finished, plans to restore the Vaudeville theater on the second floor of the building will begin to take shape. The Vaudeville is the original theater, built in 1913. In the 1930s, the building was expanded and another theater was built on the ground floor. Once that theater was erected — in just 90 days — the Vaudeville was no longer used.
For now, Turnage leaders are focused on the opening that’s on the horizon.
Holbrook, who looks forward to bringing her children to the theater, said the Pony was by far her best dance — when she was 6 years old. Will she dust off her moves?
A personal history
The family name of the Daily News publisher is associated with the fundraising efforts for the Turnage Theater. So why is he compelled to clear the air about his personal history with the building? See Brownie Futrell’s column, Page 3A.
Setting the stage for moral rehabilitation
I have never seen a performance from the balcony of the Turnage Theater.
As the phase-one restoration of the Turnage nears completion, many Washington residents have elicited fond memories of the building. Granted, of course, that those reveling in the nostalgia are white.
Although Washington’s black leadership has been very gracious in its support of the restoration efforts, it is not hard to understand why the black community, in general, has been less than enthusiastic about embracing the project. For many blacks in Washington, the Turnage Theater does not bring back a rush of warm memories.
In my childhood, there were three distinct vestiges of institutionalized racism that remain both clear and troubling to me. The first, obviously is represented by the schools. I did not experience total integration until I was in the seventh grade. Secondly, I remember segregated waiting rooms in doctors’ offices. The final agent of Jim Crow is the Turnage Theater.
Simply put, in my childhood, blacks were relegated to the balcony. Saturday after Saturday, I found a comfortable seat downstairs and up front.
Given the scarred and racist past of the Turnage Theater, does it really deserve our continued full support for its total restoration? The answer is a resounding “yes,” with one simple caveat.
The Turnage deserves not only a total physical rehabilitation; it demands a moral rehabilitation as well. Once the theater is rebuilt and ready to once again host performances, it needs to be dedicated to the ideal that the facility has been reborn as a venue to serve all people — a powerful and much needed catharsis.
In that spirit, I would love to see an early public performance in the cleansed Turnage to be one of my favorite black blues guitarists, a musical legend like B.B. King, Taj Mahal or Robert Cray.
I will be there, in a new seat, with a new perspective. With any luck at all, I will be in the balcony.