What goes around comes around

Published 11:07 am Thursday, October 13, 2022

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Those who founded and opened what was later known as the Richard Theater in downtown Ahoskie way back in 1918 would be pleased to know that 104 years later it remains very capable of providing entertainment.

If you didn’t attend this past Saturday’s Improv Challenge at Ahoskie’s Gallery Theatre, you missed a treat! Six teams, to include two sets of volunteers from the audience, participated in what turned out to be nearly two hours of laughs. For good measure, a solo comedian performed while the final scores were tallied for the Improv participants.

I volunteered as a judge and was joined by Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes, Mug Shotz owner Brenda Velazquez, Tri-County Airport General Manager and legendary pilot Henry Joyner, and NC House Representative Howard Hunter III. I think it’s safe to say that none of us had previously served as judges at an Improv event, but we quickly learned that there is an abundance of comedic talent here in our local area.

And we had a blast!!

For those unfamiliar with such an event, improvisation is a form of live theatre in which details of a skit are provided and the teams must act out those instructions without preparation. They are also provided with randomly selected props.

What ensues is complete mayhem!

A sampling of the skits included a trio of diners who become sick on the stomach after consuming a bad meal. However, there’s only one bathroom, with a single toilet, available.

Another quick skit – the actors had up to two minutes to carry out their performances – involved a group of environmental protesters attempting to protect a tree from being cut down by a person with a chainsaw.

Another involved the co-pilot of a commercial jet who had to convince the pilot – who had a bit too much to drink – to surrender his normal duties.

The winners received cash and other prizes.

Gallery Theatre regulars Norman Askew and Tim Flanagan served as the ring masters for the Improv Challenge. Maddie Dunlow was the “round card girl”. Lucas Ireland provided musical entertainment between the skits.

Saturday’s event was the official opening of a new season of entertainment at the Gallery Theatre. There are several other shows on tap, to include a Christmas variety show, directed by Murfreesboro resident Jayme Leigh, on Dec. 1-3. It will be a showcase of local talent of all ages. Auditions will be held soon and will be posted on the theatre’s website and Facebook pages.

In February, the Gallery will stage “Short Tales” which is multiple shows in one. It is open to all fledgling directors and writers. They will be allowed to write and direct a smaller play inside the main show. Flanagan, the play’s director, feels it is important to give the community a platform and creativity center.

Then in late April, the Gallery closes out the season with the beloved “On Golden Pond”.

We need to give the Gallery all the support it so richly deserves…just as it did when it originally opened over 100 years ago.

A portion of that building is even older than that. Erected in 1906 as a focal point of Main Street commercial life, the building now known as The Gallery Theatre began as a storefront nickelodeon in what was then known as a “railroad town.” As Ahoskie grew, so did the building. The area known as the lobby was built in 1918 and was used as a town meeting place and for railroad circuit performers who supplied near weekly live shows such as dog acts, juggling acts and comedians.

According to longtime Gallery Theatre Executive Director Ralph Hewitt, there was a place upstairs for the performers to rest or shower before or after their acts. For those in town for longer periods, the Garrett Hotel was right across the street.

In the 1920’s, Eric Garrett and his father, J. R. Garrett, planned and built the New Richard Theatre, complete with a $30,000 pipe organ that included bellows large enough to require a double brick foundation for support.

The new portion of the theatre created the L-shaped extension to the building that remains today. A balcony was added along with six false boxes along the auditorium walls, which eventually held speakers when the “talkie” movies came along.

The still-used elegant ticket cage is reminiscent of the heavy Edwardian designs used by Thomas Lambe.

Over the years, the historic theatre fell into a state of disrepair.

In 1966, under the guidance of the Women’s Division of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce, a group of interested citizens began an extensive clean-up and repair campaign to The Richard Theatre and The Gallery Theatre was born.

The effort to transform the building into what it is today was a painstaking process. It took a little over 15 years to generate the necessary funding to tackle huge projects such as renovating the lobby areas, installing HVAC systems, and rewiring the building.

But all that work paid off as the Gallery became the home of local live theater, musicals, and other family-friendly events such as art shows and craft shows.

Meanwhile, the Youth Summer Workshop has been a part of the Gallery for over 50 years.

“That program has served as a springboard for young people in our area interested in theater,” Hewitt said. “There’s been quite a number of our youth who’ve graduated to the ranks of our adult actors/actresses of today.”

Now in its 56th year, what has made The Gallery so successful are just simple hometown folks who keep alive this theatrical jewel of the Roanoke-Chowan area. The best way to ensure this local treasure survives is to become involved as a volunteer or support Gallery financially or by attending their performances. Believe me when I say that you’ll be thoroughly entertained!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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