About Lees-McRae Summer TheatreAbout Lees-McRae Summer Theatre

About Lees-McRae Summer Theatre

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Summer Theatre Advisory Committee   |   History of Lees-McRae Summer Theatre


Summer Theatre Advisory Committee

Dee Dee Berger Stu Darrow Arline Darrow Ruth Etkin
Stan Etkin Kerstin Gasko Fran Gaynor Jeff Handler
Barbara Hosbein Marion Krege Roy Krege Meline A. Markarian
Budd Mayer Nanette Mayer Doris Rosen

History of Summer Theatre

The year was 1976 when Janet Barton Speer arrived to the High Country from Louisiana State University to first become a Third Century Artist, working for the federal government, then to teach theatre at Appalachian State University. Little did she know that this would be the gateway to a 25-year venture at Lees-McRae College.

In 1978, Janet (known by her students as "Doc") was actively recruited to Lees-McRae College by former Academic Dean Jim Stonesifer and College President Dr. H.C. Evans to build a reputable performing arts program. Janet enthusiastically accepted the offer, and eagerly welcomed the challenge put before her. August 2003 marked Janet's 25th year at Lees-McRae College. She is proud to call Banner Elk her home and has been happy ever since her arrival.

In her earlier years at LMC, Janet's primary responsibilities were teaching classes and building a performing arts program, but her passion and gifts were also in directing. Each summer, Janet trekked off to other theatre venues to produce her work as a theatre director. By the time 1984 rolled around, Dean Stonesifer was tired of Janet going off in the summers to do work for other people and venues. He had the vision of a summer theatre program at Lees-McRae College; and it was Janet who would bring this vision to fruition. Collaboratively, these two visionaries planted the seeds of what has become a 20-year journey of theatre, education and outreach.

On July 17, 1985, Lees-McRae Summer Theatre opened the doors to its first summer production series with I Do! I Do!, The Mousetrap, Coming of Age, and a children's production, Where Are Friends When You Need Them?, two of which were written by Janet. The performances were held in Hayes Auditorium, with 3,403 audience members in attendance. The year-round production staff consisted of three people: Janet Speer, Jim Stonesifer and Joyce Ratliff (who has been our Administrative Assistant for 20 years). The rest of the summer theatre staff consisted of nine paid technicians, 20 volunteers, Performing Arts faculty Jim Taylor and Steve Parrish (who performed and served as music directors), and long-time friends of summer theatre Allen Speer, Cindy Stonesifer, the late Cathy Lyon, Tim Hill, Tessa Willoughby Carr, Blackie Nelson, Helen Tester, Jo Ann Taylor, Linda Weldon, Charlotte D'Armond Talbert and Phil Teagarden to name a few.

In 1990, Dr. Charlotte D'Armond Talbert became the company's first producer. Aside from performing, Charlotte laid the groundwork for new management structures, publicity and employee relations, and Theatre for Young People. Our current logo, summer theatre banner and playbill format were developed during her tenure with the assistance of Debby Bandy and Barbara Hosbein. In 1995, Paul Adamson joined our staff as the rehearsal and production pianist and still holds these positions today.

In 1996, Kacy Crabtree came on board as a summer theatre staff member, and now served as our Executive Director. She has worn many hats, spearheaded several new programs, including the children's camp.

During the same year, Michael Hannah joined the staff as a pianist, publicity assistant and costume designer. In 1998, John Thomas Oaks joined Janet on a wonderful collaborative venture, creating original musicals such as Star Queen and Moses.

Summer Theatre would not be possible without the generosity of our numerous donors, the town of Banner Elk and the Lees-McRae College community. We are privileged to have the support of all areas of our college operations including the Administration, Institutional Advancement, Academic Divisions, Residence Life, ARA Dining Services and Facility Services, individual faculty and staff members and the College's Exchange Store.

In 2004 Summer Theatre had 100 paid performers, technicians, and managers. Audience attendance topped 6,000 each summer, with an approximate annual operating budget of $150,000. We were blessed to have an incredibly supportive advisory board begun in 1999 that continuously worked for the longevity of summer theatre. Our patrons enjoyed two stages of productions, proudly called Hummingbird Theatre and Spotlight Theatre, which included three musicals, Theatre for Young People and three dramas with cultural themes. And our anniversary season marked the beginning of three new programs: a performing arts camp for children, student internship program and volunteer program. We, indeed, have much to celebrate!

As we begin Summer Theatre 2012, we now average ticket sales of 8,000. For several years we've had Roy and Marion Krege, Pam Joslin, Donna Morgan, Paul Adamson and Mindi Bishop working with Summer Theatre in leadership roles.

Janet has been teaching theatre, performing as an actress, choreographing, as well as writing and directing plays for more than 30 years, which includes over 500 productions. Janet is the recipient of several prestigious honors and awards. In addition, she is co-author of two books, Shadows Over My Berlin and Sisters of Providence. Her husband is Dr. Allen Paul Speer, writer and history professor at Lees-McRae College. Her children are Donovan and Barton Carroll. Janet states, "I always thought I would return to my hometown in San Marcos, Texas, but the mountains have become 'home' for me. The people, the beauty, and the artistic energy in the High Country have become so much a part of who I am that I cannot foresee ever leaving."

Just like today, Avery County was a catalyst for tourism in the mid 1980's. Summer in the mountains suggests wonderful opportunities to bring communities together; and what better way to do this than through Lees-McRae Summer Theatre. Our heritage, our commitment to the ideals of art and humanity, and our great attention to the heart have made our work special. As Janet says, "We may not have the bells and whistles, but we will always have the heart."

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