The winds and rain of hurricane Fran wreaked havoc on theatres along the Carolina coast during the first week in September, damaging two North Carolina theatres, though other playhouses in the area escaped with minimal damage and even continued doing business as usual.
Charlotte Rep, Temple Theatre and Blowing Rock Stage (which is closed for the winter months) were only marginally affected by the Sept. 5 storm, and Playmakers Repertory went on with its production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline. But Snowcamp (in Snowcamp, NC) and Crystal Coast (in Swansboro, NC) were not as lucky.
According to Jane Guralnick, Theatre Arts Director of the North Carolina Arts Council, The Snowcamp Historical Association (in Snowcamp, NC), though an outdoor theatre, lost more than $200,000 in costumes, props and storage facilities due to the storm's winds and falling trees.
Snowcamp's 800 number for tickets and information offers this answering machine message from James Wilson, the theatre's General Manager: "Thank you for calling Snowcamp Outdoor Theatre. If you've tried to reach us for the last four or five days, I apologize, we've been without power and phone service due to the hurricane damage. And obviously, if I'm not answering the telephone, I'm out here trying to clean up from the disaster that was created by this."
Reached by phone, Wilson was more specific about the damage: "We've got four buildings with trees on `em, three buildings washed away. We had over twelve inches of rain in two and a half-days. The river went up 21 inches over the normal water level." Caution is the word for the clean-up, since Snowcamp Historical Association also functions as a museum, picnic-ground and tourist site. "Trees are part of the aesthetic effect of the grounds," noted Wilson. "Clearing fallen trees or cutting trees that are in a precarious position could do more damage than good." The town of Snowcamp lies between Greensboro and Chapel Hill, both heavily hit by the storm.
Although Snowcamp's new season doesn't start until June, the hurricane's effect goes beyond damage to their historical shows. "We have our annual `Haunted Forest' fundraiser coming on October 25th," sighed Wilson, "but we're undecided what do to. It's a disaster area, 25 trees are down, and they're the size of Volkswagens around. In November we normally have a molasses festival, but this year's would be a molasses-less festival." Snowcamp has applied for a small business loan and disaster relief, but Wilson understands that his theatre may be low priority. "People were left homeless. One thirteen year old was killed in his bed by a falling tree. This is the only time in our history that a hurricane came through the state and came out a hurricane [instead of a tropical storm.]"
Damage also hit the Crystal Coast Amphitheatre of Swansboro, NC, a religious playhouse that had been performing their annual show, Worthy Is The Lamb.
Shirley Page, General Manager of Crystal Coast, reported that Fran's rains caused difficulties, though much more damage was caused by Hurricane Bertha back in July. "We lost six shows due to Bertha," she recalled, "and one weekend due to Fran. The tide washed up the backstage area. We're getting bulldozers to dig the dirt off property where it doesn't belong and fill in where it does."
Preparation also helped Crystal Coast better cope with Fran than with Bertha. The theatre lost 68 lights due to Bertha, which meteorologists had incorrectly predicted would downgrade to a level one (weak) hurricane. For Fran, lights were removed in time before the storm hit. Crystal Coast is finishing up its run of Lamb the weekend of Sept. 20-22,, and will bring in its annual gospel revue, Singing By The Sea on Sept. 26.
Even luckier was Temple Theatre in Sanford. "We did really well," said spokesperson Serena Ebhardt. A production of the musical Li'l Abner at the Temple space by the Community Playhouse was interrupted ten minutes before the end by the local lighting company. "We didn't lose power," recalled Ebhardt. "They shut off power as a precaution. The actors then told the audience how the show ended."
Because they were nearly unaffected by Fran, both Temple and North Carolina Theatre (then in rehearsals with Shenandoah, served, on a small level, as hostels as well as playhouses. "That week, with power still out," remembered Ebhardt, "cast members would use the showers at the theatres. Audiences would come to Temple because it was air conditioned; they had nearly full houses."
Snowcamp's James Wilson realizes it will be awhile before his theatre sees full houses again. He urges those interested in helping rebuild the theatre or donating money for that purpose, to contact the theatre at (800) 726-5115.
"It was a humbling experience," Serena Eberhardt said of the hurricane, "but also a soul-building experience."
-- By David Lefkowitz