After three decades, the troupe at the Theatre of Dare finds a new home, and new opportunities
By John Harper
Call it Theatre of Dare’s second act.
After three decades of stage-hopping, the local troupe settled into its own digs in February 2022, opening with six well-received performances of the classic comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Christened simply Theatre of Dare, the new space is in a strip mall in Kitty Hawk was originally a movie theater and later housed a variety show and a nightclub.
It features a professional stage, lights, a sound system, dressing rooms and a concession stand, and there’s plenty of free parking.
The permanent home also means scenery and props can stay put and auditions, board meetings and rehearsals can be conducted on a flexible schedule.
Capacity is about 175 people; audience members sit in folding chairs, with several rows on risers for better sightlines.
A giant marquee adorns the front of the building, enabling the community theater group to showcase its productions for the first-time.
“It’s a game-changer for us,” says Jessica Sands, who directed “Arsenic” and is a longtime theater member. “After our nomadic existence all these years, people will know where to find us.”
Adds the group’s president Stuart Parks, 43, “It’s a realization of how far we’ve come.”
With a lot of help from their friends at the Outer Forum for the Lively Arts, Theatre of Dare formed in 1990 and staged its first production, Neil Simon’s “California Suite,” in 1991 at Port O’ Call Restaurant and Gaslight Saloon in Kill Devil Hills.
After that, it was a traveling show (fortunately none of the actors broke a leg).
Plays were presented in venues both big and intimate, including Manteo Middle School (later College of the Albemarle), Sound Stage Theatre at The Lost Colony, the Dare County Arts Council, Manteo High School and Roanoke Island Festival Park, all in Manteo.
The variety of musicals, dramas and comedies offered over 30 years is staggering: “Oliver,” “A Few Good Men,” “Godspell,” “The Odd Couple,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Spamalot,” “Annie,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “Our Town,” among them.
With the move to the more central location (milepost 4 on the U.S. 158 bypass), the group hopes to attract a wider audience for its shows.
And if the initial response is any indication, mission accomplished.
Close to a thousand paying customers took in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“We saw a lot of new faces, people from Southern Shores, Duck, even Currituck, plus our Manteo people,” says Parks. “It was like a grand reopening.”
The theater also will use the new space for other activities, including summer classes for kids touching on various aspects of stage production.
Already, the community theater group has announced its lineup for the 2022-23 season, which runs September to May.
It includes the mystery “Mousetrap,” the comedy “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the farce “Exit Pursued by a Bear”, the musical “Urinetown” and the children’s show “The Wizard of Wonderland.”
In addition to providing a home base, the new theater will be available to rent for other events like concerts, comedy shows and art fairs.
To that end, the all-volunteer organization hired its first salaried employee: Kelsey Thompson, 40, who will serve as business director.
“It will be great to be able to expand our position,” she says, adding “and if it’s the performing arts, we want to do our best to house it.”