Published 12:00 am Monday, July 15, 2013

SALISBURY — A crew of dusty but enthusiastic theater supporters spent a good part of Saturday rolling black paint onto cinder block walls and ductwork during Lee Street Theatre’s first official Volunteer Day.
If you missed it, don’t worry. There is more painting to be done and more volunteer work days to do it, said Justin Dionne, managing artistic director.
Every Saturday for the next several months, in fact.
Using volunteer labor to paint the inside of the 9,000-square-foot theater at the corner of North Lee and Kerr streets — the former Peeler-Miller warehouse — will not only save money but also give people a sense of ownership in the building, Dionne said.
“It’s wonderful. It makes you feel like you’re a part of something,” said volunteer and board member Carol Harris as she painted a section of ductwork that will be suspended inside the theater. “We can’t afford to open a theater and pay to hire professional painters.”
Lee Street Theatre hopes to open the new performing arts center Nov. 7 with “All the Great Books (Abridged),” starring the same trio of actors who made last year’s “The Complete History of America (Abridged)” such a hit.
Lee Street’s audiences have grown each season during the past five years, and the theater’s biggest crowds turned out last year. Many of those supporters have helped raise nearly $1.3 million of a $1.5 million goal in just one year.
Donor naming opportunities remain, especially in the future garden area near the theater’s front door.
The entrance to Lee Street Theatre will face the brick sidewalk known as the Rail Walk behind the building, not Lee Street. Plans call for an extended deck, landscaping, benches and more to help make the Rail Walk an entertainment destination.
Dionne said he can envision a coffee shop or restaurant moving in next to the theater, drawn by the steady stream of theater-goers and buzz of activity in the area.
Both the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and Integro Technologies soon will relocate, leaving two renovated warehouses just down from Lee Street Theatre. Across Kerr Street, the Looking Glass Artist Collective continues to host music and theater performances.
Lee Street Theatre will continue renting the Black Box Theater at the Looking Glass until the new performing arts center opens. Once in the new space, Lee Street will launch a winter concert series featuring live music once a month from November to March.
Dionne and the board of directors plan to make the new facility available to rent for weddings, recitals and other events.
With general contractor Al Wilson and architect Jon Palmer both from Rowan County, 93 percent of all labor on the construction project is locally based, Dionne said.
He said he hopes volunteers who help paint the theater will come back when shows are up and running to sell concessions, tend bar, move tables and accomplish the myriad other tasks that come with owning your own building.
“I hope this will help us build a volunteer base,” Dionne said.
Dionne can count on Ric Harris, who paused Saturday morning to wipe his sweaty brow and laugh that his life as an accountant would be pretty boring without community theater.
Not an actor, Harris helps in other ways, like running the sound board.
When volunteers invest their time in a project, they get a better outcome, he said.
“How else do these kinds of things happen? With some kind of big entrepreneur or the government?” Harris said. “Then you end up with somebody else’s vision.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.