Forging a new path

Published 6:11 pm Monday, August 31, 2015

When the Beaufort County Arts Council took over the Turnage Theatre at the end of 2013, the staff and board of the 40-plus-year-old organization had little idea of what they were getting into. In the past year and a half, they’ve gotten into quite a lot.

When the Turnage Theatre closed in 2011 — after years of painstaking work to renovate the building to its former glory and to book acts that would bring in entertainment-loving masses once it opened — it was said by many that the success of the theater in any future endeavor would be based on programming with a broader appeal, that could bring in a wider audience from not only Washington, but from the entire county and even outside the county’s borders.

The arts nonprofit took that idea to heart and made it happen. The organization became regional, took on the new name Arts of the Pamlico and programming has expanded to include all.

Children have poured into the theater for camps held throughout the summer and storybook theater; comedy lovers have seen touring comedy acts; music lovers have heard rock, jazz, the Air Force band, bluegrass and much more; theater lovers have watched staged readings and productions; campy movie lovers have seen cult classics like “Tremors” and “Plan B from Outer Space;” partygoers attended “Terror at the Turnage” and a “Phantom of the Opera” masquerade.

But nowhere was it more apparent that the very nature of the grand Turnage Theatre has evolved under the stewardship of Arts of the Pamlico than in two events held in the past three weeks.

The first was a fundraiser, “Creative Underground,” to benefit Washington’s soon-to-be Underground Railroad Museum. The event was essentially a talent show consisting of local people with a broad range of acts. What was even broader than the range of acts, was the range of people that “Creative Underground” brought into the Turnage, some for the first time ever. Young, old, wealthy, not-so-wealthy, black, white — the audience was a true cross-section of Beaufort County.

The second was the showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Saturday night. Again, many of the attendees of the cult classic had likely never set foot in the theater. And the theater had likely never seen the like of costumes worn to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening. The response to the event was overwhelming. Arts of the Pamlico Executive Director Joey Toler said it was one of the most successful events the theater has seen since its reopening. Social media was filled with images of outlandishly costumed moviegoers and comments like “I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.”

That type of event may not be for everyone, but that’s now the point of the Arts of the Pamlico: to expand and build; to bring in the new and different, yet maintain the traditional; to make it a center of activity that draws people into the arts in as many ways as there are types of art.

John D. Rockefeller once said, “If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.”

Arts of the Pamlico is forging a new path.