02/20/05 — Impact felt throughout community

View Archive

Impact felt throughout community

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on February 20, 2005 2:11 AM

Peggy Wingate, artistic director of the Goldsboro Ballet, stood across the street from the Paramount Theater late Saturday morning, holding her 3-year-old grandson, Thomas Allen, and looking at the damage caused by a fire hours earlier.

Smoke could still be seen and smelled. The marquee that once flashed a festive rectangle of moving lights and entertainment announcements was gone. Some of the building's glass was broken, its name letters were dulled, the top of the building front looked as if it could collapse, and its interior was badly burned.

The tall standing, once ornate theater -- the location for so many dances, concerts, plays, pageants, talent shows, church services and even a wedding -- was now destroyed.

"This is devastating for the arts," Mrs. Wingate said.

The Goldsboro Ballet's spring production, "Alice in Wonderland," was supposed to open at the Paramount on March 12.

On Saturday, Mrs. Wingate found herself calling other locations, including one in Smithfield, trying to find somewhere her girls could dance.

She wasn't alone.

IN AN EVEN tougher situation was Stagestruck: The Young People's Own Theatre. Its production of "Peter Pan" was supposed to open on Thursday. Some quickly-placed calls resulted in permission to use Wayne Community College's Moffatt Auditorium on Saturday and Sunday for rehearsals. But there was still the question of where to actually perform the play.

While many art and entertainment groups were affected by the fire, Stagestruck suffered the most.

Its warehouse, which is attached to the Paramount, burned. The children's theater group lost almost everything, including the "Peter Pan" set, many of the costumes, and some of the equipment owned by Flying by Foy, a company that supplies and teaches use of theatrical equipment that can enable performers to fly.

Firefighters carried some of Stagestruck's possessions out of the building that was too damaged and dangerous for civilians to enter.

Stagestruck volunteers took the scrapbooks, wet from the water sprayed on the building to try to save it, and went to the Arts Council of Wayne County's art center, where they removed the pictures and articles. Even there, the smell of smoke could still be detected from the scrapbooks.

The set room at the Stagestruck warehouse is still intact, but it is not known if the set materials in it are all right, said Stagestruck president Peggy Womble.

"They had to knock a hole in the roof to contain the fire, so we don't know how much damage there is," said former president Pat Biggers.

The group does have insurance, and it also has some big decisions to make. What should it do about a summer camp for children in grades one through six that was supposed to begin in June? If the Paramount Theater is not rebuilt, should Stagestruck rebuild its warehouse?

And, of course, what is it going to do about "Peter Pan"?

THE PLAY'S PRODUCTION staff and executive board met at 2 on Saturday afternoon to try to find a place. They made phone calls to possible locations and then sat by the phone and waited.

They're determined to have the show.

The young cast, grades kindergarten through 12, wants to do it. The youngest children have their Tinkerbell and Buccaneer costumes because those were kept in their homes. The other characters' costumes are gone, but cast members are in favor of Jeremy Crouthamel and Katie Hankins' idea of wearing their "Peter Pan" T-shirts for the show.

The young cast has rehearsed hard for the production, and some stood outside the warehouse this morning in tears.

It's impossible to look at that and not work to find a way for them to perform, said Mrs. Biggers and Mrs. Womble.

The Flying by Foy representative is still here and is seeing whether the lost equipment can be replaced and whether it can work in the new location, if one is found.

Stagestruck has performed all of its plays in recent years at the Paramount.

And, in recent years, the Wayne County Chapter of the North Carolina Symphony has had all its Symphony concerts there. The location not only provided good acoustics and a proper stage size, it allowed the chapter to be a part of the annual Lights Up Downtown, said chapter president Marilyn Bateman.

CENTER STAGE THEATRE has also done some of its work at the Paramount and had big plans for its late April/early May production of "The Wizard of Oz."

"We're extremely devastated" about the loss of the Paramount, "not only for the arts in Wayne County, but also for the historical value," said CST president Cathy Stelly. "There was always a feeling of grand theater there."

The Community Building was lost in May due to fire, and now "we're losing another unbelievable building," she said.

Like Stagestruck and Goldsboro Ballet, Center Stage will look for new locations. And, like the Goldsboro Ballet, it may have to go to Smithfield to perform.

It has long been challenging to find performance space in Goldsboro. With the fire on Saturday, options became even more limited.

Without the Paramount, "we're really strapped for what we can do," Mrs. Stelly said.

One example of the challenge is CST's current play, "The Man Who Came to Dinner," which is being performed at Herman Park Center. Because of another commitment the center had, the actors were not able to have a dress rehearsal at Herman Park Center the night before the play opened.

Another question that has been raised is: What's going to happen to the Goldsboro Walk of Fame that was planned as part of an April 22 through 24 gala to honor Goldsboro natives Johnny Grant and Anne Jeffreys?

Jack Kannan is the executive director of the Foundation of Wayne Community College, which is sponsoring the event.

Originally, the Walk of Fame was going to be placed in front of the Paramount Theater.

Kannan says a meeting will be held next week to discuss where to locate it.

MIXED IN WITH the sadness of losing the Paramount is the determination to keep going.

Because of the need to change locations, the dates of "The Wizard of Oz" may be changed, but it will be staged, Mrs. Stelly said.

Like some of the artists, Arts Council executive director Alice Strickland feels optimistic that the community will rally around the arts groups.

"This impacts so many children in our community -- and adults, too," she said.

"This is a time all of us will have to come together and map out a future together. This is a time when we'll all just gather our wits and start anew."