06/24/05 — Groups want bigger theater

View Archive

Groups want bigger theater

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 24, 2005 1:45 PM

Arts groups asked the Goldsboro City Council Thursday night to build back the Paramount with a bigger stage, better sound and hundreds of additional seats.

More than 50 people attended a special meeting with the architectural firm, Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee, which will work on the new theater design.

Twenty people spoke during the 90-minute hearing. Most comments were about the technical limitations of the original theater and how the replacement could be better.

Only one person spoke against rebuilding the theater. Lonnie Casey urged the council to consider a location away from downtown, such as a now-closed movie theater on Berkeley Boulevard.

Afterward, city officials said they were amazed by the turnout.

"When we were raising the tax rate five cents a few weeks ago, we didn't get nearly the response that we have tonight," said Councilman Chuck Allen, also the chairman of the Paramount Theater Committee. "It's obvious that you care a lot about this."

Mayor Al King added, "I've heard an awful lot of comments about what we should do from people who never went to the Paramount. ... It's great to hear from people who actually used it."

Speakers agreed that the original stage, which was about 30 feet wide and 30 feet deep, was too small for many dance, theater and musical performances.

The North Carolina Symphony, which typically performs here two or three times a year, would prefer to have a stage at least 60 feet wide and 40 feet deep, said Scott Berkeley Jr. and Marilyn Bateman. The symphony typically brings 65 musicians, all of whom need room for their instruments and music stands.

The symphony usually sold out the Paramount's 500 seats. It would be better to have 600-700 seats on the main floor and perhaps room to add a balcony with 300-400 seats, Mrs. Bateman said. The additional seats would allow local organizers to pay the symphony and still offer discounted seats to senior citizens and students, plus free concerts for school groups, she said.

The Paramount was also too small for many dance productions, said Marie Barnes, board president of Artistic Productions Inc. of Goldsboro. "We have had to take our shows, our audience and our money out of the county."

Artistic director Patricia O'Quinn Warren said Artistic Dance Academy's "The Nutcracker" has sold out a 1,000-seat venue in Kinston and its smallest crowd there was 700.

The Goldsboro Civic Ballet and the Goldsboro School of Ballet also had problems fitting productions on the stage, Peggy Wingate said. She noted the need for much larger wing areas, which dancers would use as they prepare to come on stage.

It's also important to have the stage level with a loading dock at the rear of the theater for the ease of loading and unloading of equipment, she said.

Wayne Community Concerts has typically booked four or five shows a year at the Paramount, Laverne Barwick said. The theater's seating and stage were adequate, but the new Paramount needs a better "green room" and dressing facilities for visiting artists, she said.

Dressing room doors need to be at least 4-feet wide, to allow people to maneuver while wearing costumes, said Barton Baldwin, associated with Stage Struck Theater for Young People. The wing area needs to be around the size of the stage.

Center Stage Theater tries to hold two musicals a year. The group can have casts as large as 100 people or more, Sandra Evans said. That stresses the need for more dressing rooms, off-stage areas for set storage and other production requirements.

The orchestra pit needs to facilitate at least eight musicians, including a pianist, she said.

"Sound is our greatest need," said Bobby Boyd, co-owner of Carolina Music Showcase. The shows, which included a five-piece band, were always challenged by the Paramount's acoustics, he said.

Al Cotter, who plays "Cousin Brossy" in the showcase, said he enjoyed performing at the Paramount, despite its limitations.

"Nothing felt better than coming home to that theater. ... I had some good times in that balcony, and I know other people in here had some good times there," Cotter said.

Willie Atkinson, of WEJA Enterprises in New Bern, had used the Paramount for four concerts, typically jazz and blues, and had wanted to use it this year for a gospel concert. When the theater is rebuilt, he hopes to see special attention paid to the seating.

"The people who come to our shows are built a little bit wider than most, and they're a little older," Atkinson said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

The architects often asked the arts groups for more specifics on what they need. That information will be used as they work with the Paramount Theater Committee this summer. Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee plans to begin designing in September.

The theater will be a multi-million-dollar project. City council members said they will approach the Wayne County commissioners for financial support and hold a public fund drive.

"We'll sell chairs, bricks, trees, whatever ... It's going to have to be a community effort, but we can get it done," Allen said.