Day Trip Idea: The Lost Playwrights of Western NC

While not strictly a travel destination, I felt that this interesting group deserved at least an honorable mention as a cause of travel and as an interesting way to spend a day. 

Why “The Lost Playwrights”? Ask founder, Ludy Wilkie of Shelby to hear the truth, but the tongue in cheek reason is that like a strange nomadic tribe of word processing scribes, they never seem to meet in the same place for very long. The meetings are largely in the Hendersonville, NC area but have also been held in Shelby, NC and may be in other cities in the future. 

This is largely because the LPs are a nonprofit group of talented poets, novelists and, of course, playwrights and because there are no membership dues or any fees required. Attendance is open to all interested in the theater and written arts and people are encouraged to bring along something to be read. 

In a world where the arts are largely managed and dominated by production companies and where bake sales, ticket sales, and other fund raisers take up more time than the arts themselves, this is a very refreshing occurrence. 

The usual meetings include readings of the original works of the various members, commentary on the arts in general, and a good deal of socializing and storytellings on plays past or current. 

It’s a great place to hear a ghost story, to listen to a comedy, to hear a tragedy, and to meet the authors and actors that bring these works to the stage. 

Most of the members have a good deal of street cred as well with several published authors and produced playwrights in the group as well as actors, poets, and a few preforming musicians. 

Membership is large (over 250 according to the mailing list although usual only between twenty or thirty are physically present at any one time) and I can’t name everyone here but some of the regulars include playwrights Ludy Wilkie, Judy Carson Sloan, Jane Jones, and Tom Bennett, published authors D. Elaine “Dante” Calderin and Ned Condini, polished actor Gordon Pendarvis, and actor/technician/writer couple, Clyde and Debbie Keller. 

Other notable members include author Frank Talley, television and movie writer Ken Fitch, singer Holly Hamrick, and producer/technician Sam Stone. 

The last meeting included playwright and former Shelby Mayor, Les Roark and a reading from his play “Go West Old Man” a comedy about a classic con job gone wrong when east coast meets cowboy and which includes a side order of romance. 

Also present was female novelist, Brendan Legrand who is working on the novel, Sunday’s Child. 

Produced playwright, Tom Bennett presented one act from one of his slightly perverse and highly enjoyable plays, A Peculiar Party, about a bachelor party for the geriatric set complete with 70+ year old cake dancers and malodorous bridegrooms. There was quite a bit of scattered laughter and applause. 

Published horror and cyberpunk author, and youngest member, D. Elaine Calderin offered up the first chapter of her latest novel “It’s in the Blood” and actor, technician and baritone Clyde Keller did a remarkable cold reading of it for the group. Several people described it as “descriptive”. The author said more critique would have been welcome but acknowledges as the self-proclaimed dark side of the group she may have offended some of the writer/actor audience with the material. She adds she needs a shirt that reads “ I am not my characters”. 

And audience tested and approved playwright Judy Carson Sloan gave the LPs a funny scene set in an unlikely place as mother and daughter discuss life and death and moth holes in heavenly vestments. This play was well received and critics noted that it “flowed well” and “really seemed both natural and funny.” Mrs. Sloan also requested further input. 

Ludy Wilkie had a treat for his fellow members in the form of a theatrical adaptation of O’Henry’s classic Ransom of Red Chief. This was a fun little skit that has actually been produced once already and which was first introduced by the characters actually being led onstage by Rutherford County NC Sheriff Damon Huskey. 

Also present at this meeting were R.S. Haulk; Gordon Pendarvis; Brian Legrand; Deborah Keller.and newcomers Bob Scoggins; Janet Sims; Gary Kulas; and Dot Roark, all of whom either helped with the readings or offered news of productions and members not currently present.

This was also the meeting that included the tour of the Roger’s Theater – see the last blog for more on that one.

All in all an entertaining evening and a worthwhile day trip for the aspiring writer or culture lover. So if you are in Western North Carolina and would be interested in learning more or wish to get on the mailing list, please contact Mr. Ludy Wilkie at ludy@shelby.net

FEATURE: Shelby, NC, the Roger’s Theater, and why it’s worth the traffic hassles.

Today was spent in Shelby, North Carolina, a small to medium city located in WNC. What can I say about Shelby?

Well if you have an appointment there leave two hours early. The road system there is among the strangest in the ‘verse. Roads will oftimes run literally parallel with a four lane running next to a two line so that down the same path so that those in the four lane northbound pass literally inches from those on the southbound of the two lane. Imminent collision seems inevitable until you realize what’s going on. 

Road signs are not popular in Shelby, and neither are street numbers or formal place names. In fact, during my quest today the only place everyone could agree on as being in a geographically set location was the only one I knew how to get to…the hospital. 

The main strip – a four lane drag is 74/74 business/74 bypass/108 S all at the same time. Locals call it the drag, the strip, th main road, and the big road. After that forget it. I asked ten people for directions today to a street in downtown Shelby and received three blank stares (Uh…Washington St?) one set of very complex directions full of rights, lefts, churches, and water towers, and six responses to the effect of “ Well, you could go [directions] but maybe you best go [different directions]. What do you think, Shirl?” at which point the process repeats.

I finally bought a map in the Walgreen’s across from the hospital where a handsome and intelligent black gentleman gave me pinpoint precise directions. He was not from Shelby. He asked me not to tell where he was from. Thanks again, guy. 

But what else can I say about the region? Because once you get there it’s delightful.

It has one of the best hospitals in the state – I spent a lot of time there so I know first hand. Excellent mental health care network. Good employment rate. Lot of factories and mills…and some truly glorious architecture. I saw house ranging from New England Salt box to gingerbreaded Victorian as well as some nice Georgian and Edwardian pieces. Eve a few unusual twists on early Pyramidal and Mediterranean. 

But surprisingly, the coolest thing to me is that there is a thriving Arts and Music Scene and that there is also a hugely successful historic preservation group. As a writer and as an architecture buff, I found many things worth my while in Shelby. Houses, churches, and even private residences but for now I will focus on just one of them, tho, with more later for my fellow architectural tour buffs. 

At the confluence of high art and high historical ideals, I actually met one of the interesting people who feels that culture is an invaluable gift to children, students and to the people of his community instead of an onerous task best left to mouldering textbooks.

This individual in the person of a handsome younger man in suit coat and highly polished leather buckle boots was a Mr. Gary Kulas, a very interesting and possibly slightly eccentric (in a good way) man who dreams are large enough for outsiders to come and visit. 

Mr. Kulas’s latest project is the restoration of the intriguing Roger’s Theater in downtown Shelby.

This is a brave move and definitely an intriguing one in this day when the arts are near decease. 

The Rogers Theater, currently being restored to it’s former 1936 art deco grandeur, is located at 213 East Marion Street across from a goodly sized church. Mr. Kulas and crew are usually to be found there and are willing to offer tours and explanations to the curious and the socially conscious alike. 

I did a brief tour today in the company of the Lost Playwrights Society of WNC – all of which are just drooling to see one of their plays preformed in this soon to be available venue. 

The space is a large and interesting one and will in futurity harbor a luxurious and unique three hundred plus seating performance art center and banquet room of an elegance rarely seen in the more modern age. 

The main downstairs room is slated to see performances of live theater, dinner theater, cabaret, comedy, live music and other samplings of the local and international Arts community whereas the upstairs area is to become a full service one hundred and ten seat fine dining venue in what was once the playhouse’s balcony.

I can see that these are indeed not impossible goals. The building is spacious, live and airy and still quite full of the original late thirties energies that made it pop. It is a comfortably shaped hall with high ceilings and nice proportions and once fully modernized (soon to be handicap-equipped) it will be a luxurious one in an Ayn Rand-ish Art Deco Style. 

I will be posting some pictures of the current stage in restorations at my Facebook link and you can read all about the process and the dream of Mr. Kulas at their website www.rogerstheatershelby.com.

You will also find ways that you can help out on their page, and lend your name to the increasingly important Shelby arts scene and to the community at large.