Turnage’s future should be as glorious as its past

Published 12:40 am Thursday, March 24, 2011

I grew up on East Main Street in the 1940s and 1950s, meaning the Turnage was a hub of my childhood and adolescence. It’s where my mother took me to her beloved musicals, and later I met with the gang for Sunday-afternoon movies before the Washington Redskins became the option of choice for that time period.

It’s across the street from where the B-movie house Reita (lovingly named for Cat’s wife) used to be, and where I joined the other knickers-wearing kids who thrived on the exploits of our serial heroes each Saturday morning. And it’s where eventually I sometimes took dates, although the drive-ins had their charms.

Now, 50 years after graduating from WHS and leaving for college and careers, my wife, Barbara, and I returned in retirement, and we thrill regularly at the Turnage to the delights of live entertainment, something we both provided for many years in groups ranging from Durham to Greenville to Roxboro and Goldsboro. Earlier, she trod the boards at old John Small as a lead in the junior play, and I sang there with Charlie Stevens’ musical offerings. And over the years we’ve done Gilbert and Sullivan, community little theater and Edgar Loessin’s ECU Summer Theater productions and ECU’s, Duke’s and Elon’s operatic and oratorio performances ranging from Puccini to Handel to Bach and Brahms and Mahler with orchestras right on up to the North Carolina Symphony. What a ride!

Now, we’re among the supporters of the arts in our charming waterfront town we happened to be born into and chose to retire to. And we especially love having the Turnage once again as a hub of our lives. We were thrilled when Washington, following the lead of a revived downtown theater in Wilson where we were living at the time, decided its beloved theater deserved resurrection. And now, we delight in seeing newcomers, old-timers and friends from  Greenville and other towns such as New Bern showing up for our offerings. It stirs the juices just as surely as wearing a Pam Pack uniform used to.

I agreed to serve on the Turnage board because Barbara and I believe this theater contributes immeasurably to the quality of life in our hometown. Just watching that beautiful neon marquee all lit up on performance nights provides excitement for all of us eating in downtown restaurants, then congregating in the Turnage’s beautifully restored gathering and seating areas. I will gladly call on corporations and individuals, and our governing bodies, to give it the financial support it so richly deserves. And I’ll give my best shot to making our programming creative, widely appealing and profitable. It is the crown jewel of our downtown, and I want it to sparkle for a long, long time.

The Rev. Charles Smith is the new president of the Turnage Theaters Foundation’s Board of Directors. Better known as Charley Mike, he is a retired United Methodist minister. He was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera Young Singer Auditions. He was a soloist for the Duke Chapel “Messiah” performances for many years, as well as a lead in ECU’s Summer Theater.  He is a Duke University trustee emeritus and serves there as pastor in residence at Duke Divinity School.