TTF board has new leader

Published 1:00 am Friday, April 1, 2011

What do a semi-retired Methodist minister and the Turnage Theater have in common?

More than you might think.

The Rev. Charles “Charlie Mike” Smith, a Washington native, recently accepted the presidency of the Turnage Theaters Foundation.

Smith assumes his new role at a critical time for the Turnage, which is seeking funding to pay for its fifth season and keep the doors open.


Yet, there’s no sign the longtime minister č who also has a theatrical background as a singer of opera, religious tunes and more č is daunted by the task ahead.

“I think there’s a great deal of optimism because of the pride of what has already been done in the theater,” he said, adding, “We’re on a roll in terms of attendance and excitement about it. Now what we’ve got to do is get some donors to roll with us.”

TTF oversees the theater’s operations and raises money to keep it afloat, along with the Rachel Futrell Society, which is a part of the foundation.

Smith, who still serves as pastor in residence at the Duke Divinity School, retired to Washington with his wife Barbara in 2008.

“We’ve always been fond of the Turnage, like all those who grew up here and had the experience of that as part of your growing up,” he said.

As a child, Smith enjoyed movies at the Turnage, as did generations that preceded and followed his.

The theater is housed in a building that dates to the start of its construction in 1910.

Upstairs, over the still-working, palace-style theater, is an old, unrestored vaudeville stage that, legend has it, hosted the likes of singer-bandleader Cab Calloway, comedian Red Skelton and cowboy-entertainer Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger.

The movie theater, on the ground floor of the Turnage building, reportedly closed in 1978, but it’s said that movies continued to be shown there sporadically through the early 1980s.

A restoration effort began in 1996, and the Turnage reopened as a

performance space in November 2007.

The revival of the Turnage was literally a distant hope for Smith as he traveled from Scotland to Wilson and beyond on various ministerial assignments through the years.

“I was very familiar with the kind of work that goes into doing this kind of thing,” Smith said of the restoration, pointing to a similar project that took place in close proximity to him in Wilson.

Today, Smith is on the front row of the Turnage leadership, and he has a lot on his plate as TTF president.

The Turnage’s all-volunteer board members are working to convince the Washington City Council to continue a $100,000-a-year contribution to the theater, a tough sale even in good economic times.

The city committed to granting $100,000 to the Turnage for five years, but the grant term has expired.

“We’re, of course, wondering how much and when we will receive a grant,” Smith pointed out, adding the TTF board has had no assurances on that point from the city.

The board also is reaching out to potential corporate donors and private foundations to generate funding.

“It’s been a revelation to learn that we’re not receiving contributions on the corporate level that I think are essential,” Smith observed.

Some of Beaufort County’s corporate citizens have been generous to the Turnage in the past, Smith said, but, he continued, volunteers have looked over a list of the top 25 taxpayers in the county and noted that several on that list don’t give money to the Turnage.

The board also is calling on people in its own ranks and other foundation members to make contributions, he said.

“I think we’ve tried to be very considerate and polite, good Southern folk,” Smith said, adding now is the time to reach out to new givers and people who have given to the Turnage before.

“You have to go out and ask for it and be very clear, and hopefully provide a product that people enjoy,” he said.

Naturally, Smith knows a thing or two about fundraising. He has been a minister for many years, has worked as a leader with Habitat for Humanity and has served on the Duke University Board of Trustees.

He’s acting as a sort of spokesman for the Turnage as its board tries to bring in $77,000 to pay for the theater’s upcoming season.

This is an obstacle that doesn’t seem insurmountable to Smith, who indicates he and his wife believe that, like the Turnage, Washington has a real future that could develop more strongly as the economy improves.

“We’re very bullish on Washington,” he said.