Lake Norman & Mooresville

Davidson Community Players celebrate 50 years of live theater

Davidson Community Players rehearse for their upcoming production of “Don't Dress for Dinner.” From left are Heather Baynes, Stuart Jonap and Cat Rutledge
Davidson Community Players rehearse for their upcoming production of “Don't Dress for Dinner.” From left are Heather Baynes, Stuart Jonap and Cat Rutledge COURTESY OF DAVIDSON COMMUNITY PLAYERS

In July 1965, the Beatles movie “Help” premiered in the U.K. The spacecraft Mariner IV sent back the first-ever up-close images of Mars. LBJ signed the Medicare bill into law.

And the Davidson Community Players opened their first production, an original play dubbed “Time of Harvest.” The play, written by the husband of founder Connie Welsh, was performed by local townspeople, college students, and faculty. It was the beginning of a long and storied history for an organization that this month is celebrating 50 years of outstanding theater productions.

Although much has changed for the Davidson Community Players over five decades, one thing has not – the organization has continuously produced theater that is engaging and enriching. One aspect that has changed, however, is their profile. Take, for instance, the Players’ June run of the show “Chicago.” That production was especially exciting because it was directed by Corey Mitchell, who was whisked away to New York City during rehearsals to accept the Tony Award for Excellence in Education. The musical premiered after his return, selling 4,000 tickets – quite a departure from the organization’s humble beginnings.

Surviving tough times

So, just why has DCP thrived throughout its 50-year run, through recessions and tough economic times which can be the kiss of death for arts organizations? “I think DCP has been a success due to the hard work and support of the community,” said Marketing and Development Director Allison Wilhelm.

“That may sound cliché, but truly, we were started by community members back in 1965 and for 25 years we were run completely by community volunteers until we hired an executive director. Even today, we could not produce the shows we do without the many volunteers that support us, either through time or donations, or by attending performances.”

Wilhelm also says that live, local theater brings a lot to the community. “It is a place to bring your community together. You rehearse together. You build sets together. You see your neighbors on stage, (and) you are a part of the experience.”

“One of my favorite things is to stand in the lobby before a performance and see all the community out supporting the show or actors,” Wilhelm continued. “They laugh, talk, greet each other, wave across the lobby, visit with old friends. Then they sit down and the lights lower and they share in the story-telling that happens on stage. It is a wonderful feeling to see people I see every week in town, from the waitress at my breakfast place, the cashier at the grocery store, my banker, and the mayor all together laughing, talking and being part of the community.”

Growing needs

For most of their existence, Davidson Community Players almost exclusively produced summer shows.

Then, in 2004, it switched to a format of four shows a year. Now, they produce eight main stage shows, five adult and three youth, plus classes, summer camps, workshops, and a new Teen Summer Stock Series. With more than 14,000 people attending shows and 5,000 kids participating in youth programs, the organization now regularly faces space needs for classes, rehearsals and auditions.

A good problem to have, says Wilhelm, but a challenge all the same as DCP continues meet the demand for quality programming.

Amy Reiss is a freelance writer: amysalvatorereiss@gmail.com.

Want to go?

The Davidson Community Players present the comedy “Don’t Dress for Dinner” through July 26. For information or to reserve tickets, go to davidsoncommunityplayers.org.

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