Norvell Theater marks first anniversary

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SALISBURY — Last week, I spoke briefly with a dwarf and a wood nymph.
We met down in the belly of The Norvell children’s theater, where 40 performers were arriving to put on costumes and makeup for that night’s performance.
Allison Lingle, a 12-year-old from North Rowan Middle School, was playing a dwarf in “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,” and she would be on stage often during the night, even though she delivered only two lines by herself.
A newcomer to Piedmont Players, Allison said she knew three people out of the whole cast when rehearsals started. Now she has a whole group of new friends — from a lot of different schools — because the constant work behind a production tends to make for a bonding experience.
And though Allison played a dwarf, I know she’s standing taller these days. Performing in front of 250 people a show will do that to a person.
Ivy Overcash was my wood nymph.
“Getting to meet so many people — and just the experience of being on stage,” she told me, are the great things to being part of a production at The Norvell, now a year-old.
Overcash, 11, already thinks she is developing a lifetime hobby, having now participated in three of Piedmont Players’ shows, the PPT summer camps and productions at her school, Salisbury Academy.
Her growing love of the theater shares time with her other interests such as basketball, volleyball and tennis. She is a well-rounded wood nymph who already has learned an important life lesson from her theater experience: Keep trying.
Auditioning for plays and being rejected can be a tough experience for any kid. It has happened before to both Allison and Ivy, and it’s disappointing, sometimes tearful.
But the children who read or sing for parts — 240 auditioned for 40 spots in “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe” — come to realize that their losing out on a role doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have the talent, or should quit auditioning.
More often, it means they weren’t exactly right for the part being cast, but might be perfect for the next one. Likewise, there are many other things they could do in connection with a show — and that’s the beauty of The Norvell.
This is the kids’ place. They take ownership. Besides performing, children work the lights and sound board. They serve as ushers and greeters. They can play in the orchestra. Meanwhile, their parents become involved, too.
Ivy’s mother was working the box office that night. Allison’s family has worked there and at the concession stand.
Alison Bird, vice president of the Piedmont Players Theatre Board of Governors, said three fathers were dressed in black and helping backstage on this particular night. Other parents might help in building sets, for example.
“It’s great that kids have their own theater,” Bird says, noting how productions bring children of all races, religions and schools together. “We’re so lucky, we really are.”
It’s great when a plan not only comes together, but works. The Norvell has worked, PPT Resident Director Reid Leonard says.
The hope was The Norvell would improve Piedmont Players’s financial position, free up the Meroney Theater for other purposes, put on solid shows, provide space for more theatrical camps and workshops and develop a steady program and ongoing feeder system that keeps theater thriving in Salisbury.
Leonard says the real answer to whether The Norvell has worked will come in 10 to 15 years, when the children’s theater proves that it has sustained itself, while supplying a steady supply of new talent for adult productions at the Meroney.
If you put it in sports terms, The Norvell’s first year has been a championship season. Whole families have become involved in the theater, much like they do with Little League baseball teams or youth football.
“That’s kind of what you hope happens,” Leonard says.
The Norvell debuted a year ago with more than 60 kids in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” This was followed by “Romeo and Juliet,” “Ramona Quimby,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.”
“Grease” is on deck.
The theater was host for 12 summer camps, including a new technical theater camp for middle and high school students and a camp for children with special needs. But The Norvell also has allowed for a year-round program — shows every season and classes (such as dance and vocal) throughout the 12 months.
Some 9,500 children in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools saw productions at The Norvell in the current school year, with the Shakespeare show for eighth-graders serving as a new component.
The ability to have 10 shows a year — five at the Meroney and five at The Norvell — has provided PPT the funds to hire Marketing Director Justin Dionne and Business Manager Jonathan Furr full-time.
By the numbers, Dionne and Furr say, the addition of The Norvell presents a case study for exponential growth.
The building itself also has been a success. Remember, The Norvell was fashioned out of pool hall, thanks to an inspiring $3 million community fund-raising effort.
It now provides stadium-style seating in front of a huge stage, dressing rooms, a spacious lobby, rehearsal rooms, restrooms and a “skyway” connecting it to the Meroney Theater. The best part, Leonard says, is that it’s a good place to watch a show, and everything kids learn on the technical side connected to lighting and sound, translates to what’s in place at the Meroney.
Cody Veros, a sophomore baseball player at Salisbury High who has been in past PPT productions, wasn’t cast for “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,” but that didn’t stop him from helping backstage.
His sister, Lindsay, also was a wood nymph. Cody said he’s a good example of someone with varied interests, and one of them happens to be the theater.
His advice for kids interested in getting involved at The Norvell?
“I would just go for it,” he said.
And as any wood nymph will tell you: Keep trying.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or