Children’s Theatre Autumn
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Oil on Canvas
Collection of Steve Umberger and Rebeccca Koon
I spent 15 years working at this old building. It was built to be an American Legion Hall and had been turned into a small 300 seat theatre. The old bandstand was the stage and the dance floor had been tiered to accommodate sightlines. The windows were huge and the floors were varnished wood. There was thick dental molding around the lobby ceiling. Above the entrance to the theatre remained a large white carved eagle, the symbol of the American Legion. The four white columns at the front of the building gave it a dignity that was a bit beyond a children’s theatre. You couldn’t call it cute or fanciful. Still its beauty was protected in many ways by the administrators who oversaw the nonprofit organization. Mary Montague, who for many years was an executive director, would not allow box unit air conditioners in the front windows because they would look tacky and spoil the elegance of the architecture. Her office was on the front of the building so she was willing to swelter to save its noblesse. Subsequent executive directors were not so devoted to appearance. My two children, as well as many a little thespian, found a home there while they were growing up. They learned cooperation, collaboration, empathy, and tolerance of others who were different from themselves. Their graffiti backstage recorded a few generations of theatre experiences as young people walked on the boards of that theatre and grew into stronger and more understanding adults. My husband worked there off and on as a teacher/director and I was its resident set designer and scenic artist. I enjoyed working with a variety of directors among whom were my husband, George Gray, as well as Steve Umberger, and Alan Poindexter. We made magic on a little stage with a twenty five foot proscenium opening. I learned that Children’s Theatre was where I wanted to be. It offered me more opportunity for imaginative designs than adult theatre and my art education was put to good use. I pulled many an “all nighter” to meet the unforgiving deadlines of the curtain going up on opening night. The local NPR station, WFAE, got me through hours of labor painting scenery or sewing costumes that I had designed. I received some great reviews which were a small reward for the hours I spent away from my family. The building was demolished when the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte moved into a big new building called ImaginOn a few blocks away in the busy downtown area. There is now a tall office building standing where the old theatre used to be. All those memories are just that…..only memories for thousands of adults who spent many hours of their formative years in that old building. This painting represents the theatre building in the autumn of its years.