Back to: Table of Contents | Chapter 8. Encore for Newell Tarrant
A 50th anniversary is the product of many things-respect, tolerance, endurance, adaptability and, most of all, love and affection. So it is with marriage. So it is with a theatre. As the Raleigh Little Theatre prepares to celebrate a half century of those magical words–“Stand by, curtain… Curtain up!”–past, present, and future blur. It is hard to know where the echoes of the past end and where the future begins.
Stand on the bare stage with only the ghost light burning and look up at the grid, high above the stage floor. Remember Dick Snavely scampering along a catwalk to untangle a rope. Or Glenn Miller, literally disappearing into a hole in the wall as he climbs above the auditorium ceiling to set lights in a deserted theatre at 2:00 in the morning. John Miller doing that little dance of his along the narrow ledge around the orchestra pit when music and words finally came together. Newell Tarrant leaping from his seat and bounding up the steps to the stage as only he did, showing an actor how to move, how to read a line. AI Wolfheimer, master carpenter-electrician-designer-plumber, etc. etc.
And the thousands of others. Jimmy Leocarta-and all the other choreographers who taught actors with two left feet how to dance, and make it look good. Dick Southwick-and all the other musicians who, for the umpteenth time, explained patiently that there had been a key change and it would be nice if the singers went along with the score. Dot Cash-and all the other box office workers who juggled the phones, sold the tickets and reserved the seats.
Volunteer costume designers such as Barbara Mitchell, Corinne Heck and Bettye Martin who devoted countless hours to the creation of elegant gowns, grass skirts, foam armor, and memorable hats for all shapes and sizes of performers.
The actors and actresses. The golden-haired little boy, so small he ran between the legs of the King of Siam when he took a curtain call. A housewife and mother, hypnotizing an audience as she brought to life with beauty and enormous dignity a noblewoman in the court of King Henry. An actor in a Shakespearean play, his forehead beading with sweat, as he encountered that terror of the stage, “drawing a blank,” trying to ad lib in iambic pentameter-a challenging task in the best of circumstances-as the player next to him debated whether to skewer the hapless one with a sword or join him in a well-done swoon.
It’s all there–part of the thousand and one nights of magic that have been worked in the Raleigh Little Theatre.
And the fantasies of the past blur into the celebration of the present. Old-timers gather in the Greenroom to plan the golden anniversary celebration. Former Raleigh Mayor Isabella Cannon, who was in the first play in RLT’s own building. Rebecca Gill, RLT secretary from 1948 to 1965, who loved the theatre so much she returned as a volunteer after her retirement. Jimmy Thiem, actor, volunteer worker, cheerleader for the Little Theatre over the decades, a man who remembers when RLT rehearsed and performed above Briggs Hardware Store in downtown Raleigh.
They are the symbols of all the men and women, the boys and girls, who have appeared on the Little Theatre stage, painted the sets, sewed the costumes, ushered, answered the box-office phone, sold the tickets-in short, done all the things that make a theatre come to life.
The 50th anniversary season of 1985-86 will bring back memories for the Little Theatre family with a nostalgic return to RLTs roots-Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” “The Little Faxes,” “The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and Rodgers and Hart’s evergreen musical, “The Boys From Syracuse.”
The 50th anniversary also is a time for looking to the future. The Raleigh Little Theatre’s long-range plan now under study includes a variety of options-from new theatre to studio for videotaping productions to expanded professional staff It is a future filled with promise, as exciting as the wonderful moment when the house lights dim and the curtain rises.
The house and backstage crews are ready, The cast waits in the wings. And the future is in the hands of the audiences who have made the Raleigh Little Theatre what it is today-a guardian of that most ephemeral and precious of art forms, live theatre that brings us the comedy, the tragedy, the hopes and fears and dreams that are the human condition.
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