About Summer Theatre

Lees-McRae Summer Theatre provides top quality, professional theatre in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They specialize in big stage musicals including Broadway classics and newer hits, plus some outstanding original works. The season runs from late June through early August.

After decades of directing at regional theatres, Dr. Janet Barton Speer founded Lees-McRae Summer Theatre in 1985 at the college’s request with a simple goal of making the audience a happier or better people. It was an immediate success, selling 250,000+ tickets since its beginning. Each season, the shows attract 7,000+ guests from 25 states and nearly 700 zip codes. 

This unique hybrid of professional, educational, and community theatre includes aspiring performers and technicians working alongside award-winning industry professionals. The 150-member company descends from many states to the small mountain resort town of Banner Elk. 

More than 20 college students from across the country are selected each year for the highly respected intern and apprenticeship program. Each student works in their area of interest ranging from performance to props, costumes, lighting, set design, carpentry, and more. These paid positions include housing and meals. 

Each year, a special effort is made to discover and showcase local talents, both children and adults. Some locals have worked on dozens of shows, and many children return every year to take more challenging roles. 

Planning for the Summer Theatre season begins nearly a year in advance. Both audience and company members provide suggestions for upcoming productions. An advisory committee formed in 1997 to keep a pulse on the taste and desires of the local community.

Once the shows are selected and rights secured, a creative team for each production is formed, including music directors, choreographers, and designers. Planning meetings take place over six months before the first rehearsals begin. Between January and May, designs are completed, the productions are cast, and nearly 200 individual contracts are processed. Meanwhile, marketing and ticket sales begin.

By the end of May, the cast and crew move onto the Lees-McRae College campus. Technical elements are constructed, including costumes and scenery, while the first rehearsals begin. As the first show runs, preparations and rehearsals for other shows take place. Meanwhile, an army of volunteers assist with directing traffic, taking tickets, and helping attendees find their seats.  

Lees-McRae Summer Theatre is led by Managing Director Gabriel Vanover, Operations Manager Pamela Joslin, and Artistic Director Janet Barton Speer. It is funded by ticket sales, grants, and donations by individuals and businesses. 


Lees-McRae Summer Theatre is committed to producing quality theatre experiences.  We serve audiences who view our productions, students who are training in their craft, and we serve the High Country community as collaborators for the betterment of our area.


  • Provide quality productions using professional, community, and student performers.
  • Educate audiences about the value of theater as a reflection of humanity.
  • Educate practitioners in the field of performing arts.
  • To provide a positive and collaborative relationship between the college and the community. 

Summer Theatre Advisory Committee

Dee Dee Berger
Carol Berns
Sue Chase
Stuart Darrow
Arlene Darrow
Molle Grad
Jeff Handler
Pam Joslin
Roy Krege
Marion Krege
Sandi Solomon
Janet Speer
Nanci Tolbert Nance
Gabriel Vanover

Summer Theatre Staff

Janet Barton Speer, PhD
Artistic Director

Gabriel Vanover
Managing Director

Mailing Address

Lees-McRae Summer Theatre
PO Box 128
Banner Elk, NC 28604
Box Office: 828.898.8709