Voices of Volunteers at The Old Theater

Actor Elaine Creel with Director Ben Gaskill
in the 2016 production It Happened in the Park.

By Elaine Creel

In 2003 my husband Bill and I had just moved to Oriental and were driving around town when I saw an open side door at The Old Theater. I had always wanted to act in a “real” play and decided to go inside. A handful of people were there and asked me if I would help them by reading a character’s part. I did and…voila…I was Peggy in Weekend Comedy! I was hooked!  Being on stage is a magical experience. It’s like being a child again – feeling free to let go of your inhibitions and use your imagination. Being a part of the theater is discovering your hidden talents and gaining confidence as you share them. Acting is uplifting, empowering and fun! (Plus, you get to meet some really neat people and form new friendships!)

Russ Stevenson

By Russ Stevenson

Prior to moving to Oriental after retiring (UP Michigan), I had no interest in the theater in any shape or form. Little did I know what an important role it would play in my retired life.  After several years of cruising the Caribbean, we returned to Oriental to build a home and settle into what we felt would be a quiet life.  One evening after a movie at The Old Theater, Nelda Coates announced that she would like to retire from her job in the Theater as ticket seller, and I thought, “Oh, I can do that.” Little did I know where that would lead. The Old Theater became a very important part of my life. I got interested in acting and met so many people through performances and selling tickets in the Box Office. The Old Theater relies on two things, audiences and volunteers, both of which have been severely set back by COVID. The Old Theater has a very new website at www.oldtheater.org which outlines some of its history and activities. Check it out and I am sure you will agree that The Old Theater must survive. Get involved. You won’t regret it.

Volunteer Carol Small works
concessions at The Old Theater

By Mary Frances Taylor

Carol Small is a long-time volunteer who completed a project for The Old Theater in 2016, to write and perform a narrative for Public Radio East in celebration of The Old Theater’s 70th Anniversary. This project took untold hours of research and interviews which ultimately became a primary source of history for The Old Theater. This story told of the Old Theater’s meager beginnings in 1946 as a movie theater and how, after being abandoned for many years, a local theater group, the Pelican Players, led a community effort to form the Old Theater Corp. to provide Pamlico County and Oriental a venue for cultural and civic events.  Carol interviewed early theater volunteers, from Billy Johnston, the first projectionist in 1946 when he was only 14 years old, to the present-day Mayor of Oriental, Sally Belangia, who described what the theater meant to her and her brother growing up in small town Oriental. Carol also talked with Irma Fay Bond who recalled some of the humorous antics of her brother Jack inside the theater. Carol spoke on the phone with Janet Stobie, a member of the Pelican Players, and she talked to Craig Elliott, actor and director with the Oriental Repertory Company. They shared their experiences in many of The Old Theater’s early productions. 

Volunteer Hugh Midyette remembered he was just a young boy when the theater was being built in 1946 and Woody Fuller had a few stories to tell from his acting days with the theater. Other significant volunteers in the theater’s history were Nancy and Will Huff, John and Alice O’Shaughnessy, Patti and Jim Higginbottom, John Burritt, Allen Propst, Linda Johnson, John and Eliz Valassis, Evelyn Stephenson, Judi Heit, Charlie Carpenter, Weldon Howe, Hubert and Norma Smith, and Gary Brinson. Carol believes that volunteers keep theater alive in our community and donating time and energy can be personally rewarding.  She explained, “Working with the theater Board and writing the history for the centennial celebration was a highlight of my living in Oriental NC. I got to meet and talk with so many people and learn so many new things. It was a wonderful experience.” 

The Old Theater Board has recently welcomed a new President, Carla Fisher, and new Vice President, Teresa Conrads. Other new Board members are being introduced this week. New life is breathing in this old building, and it is such a pleasure to watch and experience firsthand. The theater body is made up of many parts all working together to bring performing arts back to life after Covid. Volunteers are the systems that help it function, from on-stage actors and performers to behind-the-curtains script writers, directors, sound and lighting technicians, stagehands, and prop builders. There are volunteers who spend time and energy contacting businesses for sponsorships, deliver posters throughout the county, and work the shows collecting tickets, popping popcorn, or greeting guests. As Carla often says, “There’s a role for everyone at The Old Theater.” If you are ready to have some fun and willing to donate some time, call 919-221-5362 or send us an email to oldtheaternews@gmail.com and let’s discover together a role that you can play with The Old Theater.