Featured photo: The ARTC is open and ready to host events again. (courtesy photo)
It’s barely recognizable.
When Marsha McNeely Heirl founded the Alamance Repertory Theatre Company at 110 W. 7th Street in Winston-Salem, the physical space had almost nothing.
The seating consisted of old church pews, all donated, and there was no air conditioning. The curtains were folded screens. This was all McNeely Heirl could afford at the time.
“We started a theater company and we were looking for a space to stage our plays” she says. “Richard Miller, I had been bugging him forever to let me rent it and he finally decided to let me rent it.”
ARTC, which opened officially in 2018, performs all kinds of plays, especially those that touch on important social issues, including The Last Five Years, A Streetcar Named Desire, Rent and Metamorphosis, all scheduled for 2022. The theater’s mission is to bring the community together.
Soon, everything started coming together for ARTC. A local Eagle Scout made it his project to revitalize the space. He fixed up the marquee and put in real curtains. Shortly after that, a local theater closed, allowing McNeely Heirl to sell the church pews and buy theater seats.
The renovations also include an expanded stage, allowing them to be back and better than ever since reopening after a year of being closed during the pandemic.
“Now we have an air-conditioned theater with seats and curtains,” she said. “We’re moving the bar back and creating a VIP space where people can receive all kinds of perks. We’ve hung a projector so we can show movies now as well.”
In addition to the indoor renovations, ARTC also has a new mural on the side of the building with a link to the organization’s Instagram account. The small, white, brick building is also decorated with a series of large stars, leftover from the Garage’s glory days, and advertisements to their current and upcoming shows.
The last year and a half has been difficult for ARTC as a theater venue, which should come as no surprise. Hundreds of concert venues shut their doors for good while movie chains like Regal closed down. Live theater was a major victim as well, with Broadway only now reopening their doors, though several shows closed before they could return.
Luckily a backer had offered to pay ARTC’s bills, though, which McNeely Heirl said saved their business. They closed for a year. Now, they have been renting the space to other theater organizations that were not as lucky.
“A lot of theater companies lost their spaces, so we’re opening up our theater so people can rent it,” McNeely Heirl said. “As a theater company, without putting on any plays, you’re not making any money.”
Their next show, on Saturday, is a drag show, closely followed by a show by Twin Cities Stand Up on Oct. 15. Evil Dead will close out October and then McNeely Heirl has 2022 packed through December.
“We’ve tried to plan 2022 as a killer year for arts and theater,” McNeely Heirl said. “We’re always looking for playwrights in addition to hoping we get a burlesque performance now and then. We’re also hoping to do more drag shows.”