In 1994, California transplant Lynn Pryor opened a theater in the basement of his Fayetteville home.
    “The first season was a short one; we were on the ground floor of my house and seating 40 people,” said Pryor, artistic director and founder of the Gilbert Theater. For the next eight years, performances were at the house — five plays a year (sometimes more) with three inside the house and two in the garden. 
    “We did Shakespeare and children’s plays,” said Pryor. “Many of our plays would not have been seen here otherwise.”
    {mosimage}Next came three years of performing at the Art’s Council building before moving into the current location on Bow Street.
    From the theater’s first days, Pryor had every intention of building something with staying power — so much so that he gave it a name that connected it with the city. 
    “When I decided to move here and I saw this space I knew that I could start a theater and I knew that I wanted to associate is somehow with Marquis de Lafayette,” said Pryor. “I can’t even remember what it is now but I decided that is what was going to be the name of the theater.
    “Then, the next night I thought ‘Are you crazy? Do you want to spend the next 25 years telling people how to pronounce it ... how to spell it?’” said Pryor. And then I looked at his (Lafayette’s) full name and he had four or five Christian names and the one that his family used was Gilbert — and that is how it is directly related to our city’s namesake.”
    Of course, many things went right for the Gilbert Theater from the beginning; however, Pryor gives ultimate credit to those who have played a part over the years, naming not only the great actors, producers, business sponsors and artistic supporters, but also the audiences that have come to be entertained.
    “People here are so marvelous, so kind and generous,” he said, comparing it to the analogy of a snowball rolling downhill. “Very soon I could see that it would last, given the community and the commitment that I had from people that were coming to the heart of it. After the first season or two I could see the trajectory of it.”
    On the theater’s Web site it reads, “Gilbert Theater: Where the process is as important as the product.” Pryor is serious about that motto, recalling acting companies in other theaters where all that mattered was opening night — no matter what the wreckage might be in terms of people saying they would never work there again.  
    “I want this to be the absolute opposite here,” said Pryor. “I want people to return because they are treated with respect and have a time of growth and collaboration and fulfilling artistic impulses.”
    Unfortunately, it is still a few weeks too early for Pryor to give many details about what is in store for the coming season, though he did offer a few clues.
    “There is going to be a premier original musical ... if all goes well,” said Pryor. “A second musical and our Christmas Carol and then a contemporary play that I saw in London a couple of years ago and knew would be perfect for us.
“There will be a very, very humorous comedy,” he added. “It is just a couple of weeks too early to spill the beans right now.”

Contact Stephanie Crider at editor@upandcomingweekly.com 

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