As in the 1934 hit song, “What a difference a day makes,” we have witnessed the growth and transformation of the Gilbert Theater. The Gilbert has been a part of the thriving Fayetteville arts community since Lynn Pryer allowed the first patron to visit his Brandts Lane basement theater in 1994.
The Gilbert has grown from a 40-seat home theater into a 99-seat, semi-professional black box in the heart of downtown. Now the theater is preparing to open its 20th anniversary season with the musical Rent on September 20.
The Gilbert was built on a dream made possible by local artistic talent, which was allowed to blossom and grow during those early years. One such talent inspired by the theater, honed to perfection and still delighting us today, is seen in our own Fayetteville local favorite, Joyce Lipe.
“I first heard of Lynn Pryer’s theater from fellow actor, George Roraback about 20 years ago. Shortly after, Lynn asked me to audition for a show he was directing, An Evening of One Acts. I performed a monologue from Quilters and have been a regular at the Gilbert Theater ever since. My fondest memories involve Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, which I narrated for six consecutive seasons. My husband and I took part in the Fayetteville Arts Council Dickens Holiday each year dressing in costumes of that period and as we strolled along Hay Street getting caught up in the beauty of candlelight and Christmas decorations, I thought what a perfect time for the Gilbert Theater to present A Christmas Carol. Chuck agreed and I presented the idea to Lynn and the show took off from there, every year being a bit different with lots of rewrites and new cast members and a tradition was established.
“Over the years, I have performed in close to 20 shows, each a different aspect of theater from monologue to large cast, comedy to drama but always directed and rehearsed to the best that each cast had to offer,” she continued. “All shows were cast from open auditions allowing anyone with a desire to appear on stage to give it a try. Consequently, the Gilbert has been a proving ground for new actors and an opportunity for seasoned actors to hone their skills. New playwrites are also encouraged to submit their work. The Gilbert Theater has established itself as a theater of excellence where, as Lynn so beautifully stated it, “Story telling takes center stage.”
Artistic Director Robyne Parrish is beginning her second season with the Gilbert and has tried to stimulate the Gilbert’s growth by bringing in talented colleagues to direct and star in many of last season’s productions. This 20th season will begin with the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson. This modern musical, roughly based on the opera La Boheme, will carry on the tradition of the Gilbert to pursue theatrical experiences that are somewhat outside of the mainstream. Rent was not considered the usual Broadway fare when it opened in 1996 but still speaks to issues that, even now, we only discuss behind closed doors. “Rent is a musical about a hip young group of artists in NYC in the 1990s coping with love loss and happiness while learning to live for today!” Parrish continued, “We are blessed with an ethnically diverse cast that truly captures the world of Rent and the New York City that is in all of our hearts.”
The show is directed by Ruth Crews, stage director, and Leanne Valcarcel, musical director, both of whom will make their directing debuts at the Gilbert.
Rent opens Sept. 20 and runs through Oct. 6 Friday-Sunday with 8 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday nights and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15 and $13 for military, students and seniors. Reserve at www.gilberttheater.com 910 678 7186
The season continues with the annual favorite, A Christmas Carol followed by new works to complete the roster including Pan (the true story of Peter Pan) adapted for the Gilbert, Sherlock Holmes: The Sleeping Detective a brand new, sleepy Sherlock tale, Macbeth and A Company of Wayward Saints.