02/27/05 — Some want to do more than just rebuild theater

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Some want to do more than just rebuild theater

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on February 27, 2005 2:08 AM

Rebuild the Paramount Theater?

That question elicited a wide range of answers from representatives of some of Wayne County's arts organizations.

*Of course! Return it to its original look, but make its interior state-of-the-art: up-to-date lighting and sound, a larger stage, more seats, a better fly system.

*Keep it where it was originally located because downtown needs and deserves it.

*Rebuild but don't stop there. Establish a performing arts center as well. Maybe the former United Artists Theaters off Berkeley Boulevard that closed last month. That would offer more space for bigger productions.

*Why not have the Arts Council of Wayne County run the theaters? Wouldn't people whose professions involve the arts be the best to run places that serve actors, dancers, musicians?

These and other possibilities were mentioned during telephone interviews with the News-Argus.

Why rebuild?

"I would like the Paramount to be rebuilt in its exact location because it's historic, and downtown doesn't need to lose that," said LaVerne Barwick, president of Wayne Community Concerts Association. "We need to keep a quality smaller venue for smaller audiences."

If a performance will probably draw 400 people, sponsoring groups don't want to lose money renting larger spaces than they need, she said. In addition, the groups don't want their artists performing in theaters that are only part full.

Peggy Wingate, director of the Goldsboro Ballet, also said she wants to see the Paramount rebuilt.

"We need a formal theater area, complete with a full stage, that can be permanent and that we can use for the community as well as for ballet and theater," she said.

Mrs. Wingate said she liked the Paramount's location because it bought people downtown to safely enjoy dinner and art performances.

"The arts do bring in the traffic, a healthy traffic," she said.

Patricia Warren, director and choreographer of Artistic Productions Inc., believes that, if the Paramount is not rebuilt, "It'll hurt downtown. I want it built exactly as it was. When you walked into the Paramount, it felt like you were in a theater."

The Paramount has "been a good place for downtown Goldsboro," said Peggy Womble, president of Stagestruck: The Young People's Own Theater. "I think it has helped the restaurants."

While Mrs. Wingate and Mrs. Warren like the idea of rebuilding the Paramount, they and others said they want to see it enlarged and updated.

There should be more storage space for props, and bathrooms and dressing rooms should be big enough to accommodate the artists, Mrs. Wingate said. The part of the stage that the audience sees should be 60 feet long and 50 feet wide. In addition, there should be 10 feet of stage space on each side where actors could wait for their time to go on and where props could be moved.

"We could have a side area where a truck could go in and unload a set," she said.

The height of the Paramount ceiling was good for productions, Mrs. Wingate said, but modernized equipment that pulls up curtains was needed.

She said she also would like to see more seats, perhaps 800 or 1,000 instead of the 500 seats in the old structure.

Mrs. Warren said better lighting and sound are needed, as is an up-to-date fly system.

Marilyn Bateman, president of the Wayne County Chapter of the North Carolina Symphony, said she would like to see seating in the lobby.

"People come early," she said. Some are older and some have physical problems. "They need somewhere to sit down before the performance begins."

"We have to have the right tools," Mrs. Warren said. "I see a lot of stuff outside of our community. A lot of communities have civic theaters that are nice, but they don't have the quality arts organizations we have."

She referred to Stagestruck, Center Stage Theatre and the local dancers.

"Our quality of art is on a so-much higher scale, but they have the theaters."

Would a new

theater be enough?

Whether or not the Paramount is rebuilt, Cathy Stelly, president of Center Stage Theatre, said she would like the Arts Council to have its own performing arts theater.

"It would be great for the arts to rally together and get their own theater," Mrs. Stelly said.

If it was run by the Arts Council, affiliates would be assured of continuing to get first choice of dates, she said. And other arts groups would benefit as well, she said. Presently, due to a lack of proper venues, some groups have to go out of town to perform.

Artistic Productions Inc. is an example, she said. When it performs "The Nutcracker," it can't find theater space in Goldsboro, so it is performed in Kinston.

When the Paramount burned, that was the end of the theater space it was going to use for "Dance for Christ," scheduled for April 1-3. The performance will go on but, Artistic Productions will have to go to Kinston.

Up to 1,000 seats would be good for a performing arts theater, Mrs. Stelly said.

Alice Strickland, the director of the Arts Council, said she would like to see a facility that has from 1,000 to 1,500 seats.

"I think a lot of feasibility studies need to be done," she said. "I think we need to think carefully about what to build and where."

In addition to doing the studies, action needs to be taken as quickly as possible, she said.

Whether the Paramount Theater is rebuilt, or a new performing arts facility is created, or both occur, there are people in the Wayne County performing arts who believe the facility or facilities should be run by the Arts Council or someone with experience or a degree in theater management.

Mrs. Bateman said whoever is hired to run the theater should be available full-time during performances and rehearsals to assist as needed, should be responsible for making sure the theater is properly stocked with supplies and cleaned, and could help with marketing.

East Carolina University has students who graduate with degrees in theater management, she said. "Maybe the Arts Council could work in conjunction with the city in seeking out a qualified person."

"It would be great if the Arts Council would run the theater," Mrs. Barwick said. "I think the Arts Council is more in tune with what the activities produced there need, and maybe it would be a better situation for the arts affiliates who use it."

During the Arts Council's board meeting held on Thursday, Mrs. Strickland told board members that, in Wilson, the Arts Council manages the art center and city-owned theater. The city and county give enough money for the Wilson council to do this -- a total of about $145,000 a year -- which enables the Arts Council to hire staff.

Having the Arts Council run the Paramount and/or a performing arts theater would put it at the forefront of the arts in eastern North Carolina, said Ven Faulk, vice president of the Arts Council board.

"This is the time to say that we want more responsibility and more money," said board member Geoff Hulse.