Most everyone is familiar with the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” There’s no doubt that lemons have been abundant this year, and the performing arts organizations in our city, including The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem, have had more than their share.
So, what to do? Faced with cancelled shows, classes, and camps, LTWS had two major goals: one was to keep entertaining the community. The theatre company quickly moved to online offerings, with a series of monologue and singing competitions, a 14-week theatre trivia game show that attracted state-wide audiences, a virtual 10-Minute Play Festival (produced in conjunction with the Winston-Salem Writers), and a series of virtual acting classes and camps.
The other goal was to stay afloat during the shutdown. With no income, LTWS began looking for ways to cut expenses. The largest ongoing expense was the rent and utilities for its Workshop, a building housing the theatre’s costumes, props, and set pieces, as well as everything needed for scenic and costume construction. As one might imagine, an 86-year-old theatre accumulates a lot of stuff over the decades! The company also needed more space than their location on First Street offered.
LTWS Executive Director Philip Powell reached out to County Commissioner Don Martin with a “lemonade” idea: how about a collaboration? After a series of discussions, a partnership was formed. The Little Theatre would move its costume and scene shops to the former Hanes Middle School campus, a fantastic space. In exchange, LTWS would make its huge inventory and theatrical experience available to the school system.
“We are ecstatic to be entering into this new collaboration with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools,” stated Powell. “Not only will the storage space allow our technical departments the room they need for building our shows, but the new partnership means we strengthen our community relationships by going to schools and working with the many creative teachers in the schools’ drama programs. We are excited about helping them with their projects and productions.”
Brad Oliver, Director of K-12 Arts Education and the Summer Enrichment Programs of WS/FCS, agreed. “We are very excited to have as our new partner in the Arts, The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem. This partnership will allow them the ability to have crucial storage and building space. In turn, our students and teachers will have direct access to the wonderful theatrical resources they have. It only strengthens our Theatre program.”
The move took several weeks to complete, but the Little Theatre’s Workshop now occupies the main floor of the historic school building, which was initially built to be Hanes High School and later became Hanes Middle. Classrooms are now being used for costume and furniture storage, while the former gymnasium has been turned into a scene shop for building sets. The former chemistry lab has become the props storage room and one of the larger classrooms is now the sewing room.
“It has been a lot of work, but I’m excited about this move,” said LTWS Costume Shop Manager Tara Raczenski. “This new partnership has so much potential, not just for us, but for our customers, school drama programs, and the theatre community at large.” The costume shop houses over 10,000 pieces, including costumes for men, women, and children, accessories, wigs, shoes, fabric, and sewing machines.
Daniel Alvarez, LTWS Board Secretary and long-time volunteer, coordinated the scene shop part of the move. ““Despite the pandemic and all of the negative issues surrounding it, it is really nice to have this positive thing happen for us,” he commented. “In addition to providing us with a great workspace and the ability to further engage with our community, it is also setting us up to emerge as a fiscally stronger organization.”
While the actual move has already taken place, the theatre company looks forward to having the next few months to further organize the new space. “The goal at this point is to get everything organized so that we are prepared when we can start producing plays and musicals again,” commented Powell. “We’ll definitely be ready.”