Three years ago, Mooresville resident Della Knowles landed one of the lead roles in the Davidson Community Players’ stage production of “Dixie Swim Club,” a play about four women who annually vacation at the Outer Banks to rekindle their lifelong friendship and escape the challenges of their everyday lives.
It was a case of art imitating life for Knowles, 33, as she was in the middle of a period of her own life in which re-igniting her passion for acting was also a diversion from a decade-long commitment to raising a young family.
Since 1965, the Davidson Community Players has been connecting people on both sides of the fourth wall, encouraging community participation in its dramatic productions that entertain and enrich. Knowles isn’t acting when she talks about the role community theater can play.
“I think it’s very important,” she says, “ because it allows people who have the passion and drive to express themselves and for other community members to come and see it and see that there are other people just like them …
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“Maybe even one person will be changed because of what they see. Davidson Community Players helps bring that to the community.”
Leaders of the local nonprofit organization are pleased with its presence in Davidson, adding that it has become more of a regional draw in recent years. Its adult and youth productions are more popular than ever, exemplified by the theater company’s addition of a sixth adult show this year.
With two of 2017 season’s adult shows already complete, Davidson Community Players ’s next production will be the musical “Annie,” scheduled for June 22-July 2 at Duke Family Performance Hall on the Davidson College Campus. The children’s theater company, named The Connie Company, completed its second of three productions for the 2017 season.
“We feel very healthy,” said Alan Martin, chairperson of the Davidson Community Players’s board of directors. “We’re very fortunate to have a very generous business community and generous donors who understand that ticket prices don’t begin to cover the costs of producing quality theater and education programs.”
Martin says that when he served a first stint on the board of directors 15 years ago that board members were the core of Davidson Community Players ’s volunteer base. One example of the organization’s growth in the last couple decades is the board’s readjusted focus on shaping policy and financial development and the expanded staff’s recruiting of a large volunteer base.
Matthew Merrell, executive director since 2011, says Davidson Community Players has about 400-500 volunteers whose duties range from building sets to working in the box office to acting. While many may argue that Davidson Community Players ’s actors are of a professional level, none of them are paid.
Merrell added that annual attendance for Davidson Community Players shows approaches 15,000, a number that will likely increase with the addition of an extra show this year. Two summer shows are held at the Duke Family Performance Hall while the others run at the group’s Armour Street Theatre.
If there is one challenge Davidson Community Players has, it is space. Space to hold shows. Rehearsal space. Office space. Storage space. Space to conduct classes.
“Our programs have been growing like crazy over the last five to seven years,” says Merrell, who also acts and directs. “We have been kind of tripping over ourselves. We didn’t have enough space for all the programs we were trying to offer, yet we were trying to meet this incredible demand.”
In addition to stage productions, Armour Street Theatre is home to popular youth and teen educational programs such as summer camps and workshops. Davidson Community Players uses three additional separate properties for its administrative offices, construction and storage of sets, and storage of props and costumes.
So, a 3,300-square-foot space at The Chair Factory Shops in Cornelius has been an important recent addition. Known as The Actor’s Lab, the site hosts rehearsals, drama classes and scene studies, and is used for board meetings and storage.
In recent years, staff and board members have held conversations about the prospect of operating a single location that can satisfy all of Davidson Community Players ’s operations and needs. It’s something the organization can’t fit into its $550,000 annual budget so a vast capital campaign would be needed.
A famous playwright once said “all the world’s a stage,” but Davidson Community Players would settle for a less worldly space in its hometown.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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