For years, whenever the production team at Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance needed a particular prop or costume, they had to search in different storage locations in town.
At any given time, there was at least two scene shops used to store costumes, props and set pieces.
“If you needed a red tie, we would be like, ‘Where is the red tie? Is it in that building or that building?’” Jamie Lawson, artistic director for Theatre Alliance, said. “We had to drive to it.”
Those days are gone.
In February, Theatre Alliance moved out of its rented performance space at 1047 Northwest Blvd. and completely made the move to its permanent new home at 650 West Sixth St in downtown Winston-Salem.
The new building, which is the former location of the Bluebird Cab Co., is a $2.3 million project made possible by a capital campaign, private donors and gifts from members of the community.
Theatre Alliance bought the building in April 2019 and started moving items for storage into its upstairs space. Phase One renovations, which started in July 2020, are complete. Phase Two will include mainstage curtains and getting an upstairs performance space complete.
Seating has increased at the new space.
“We went from 120 to 166 bolted seats, but we also have the option of adding up to 20 non-bolted seats,” Lawson said.
The new building also provides Theatre Alliance with a nice, large lobby.
“When it was raining or when the sun was beating down or whatever, folks would have to wait in line outside our space,” Lawson said of the former space.
Lawson said he feels like they went “from a shoe box to the Taj Mahal.”
All set items, such as walls and floors, are downstairs on the same level as the mainstage and lobby area, and costumes and props are upstairs.
“Now, we know where the red tie is,” Lawson said laughing. “It’s right up there in the corner with the other ties.”
Founded by Fred Gorelick in 1983, Theatre Alliance is going into its 38th season, offering classic and alternative theater in the Triad.
The troupe’s productions range from family musicals to edgy shows.
“Everything from Disney to R-rated shows,” Lawson said.
He added that with at least 12 shows a year, Theatre Alliance is able to have a lot of variety in its programs and offer something for different audiences.
“As a community theater, we want to hit the community,” he said. “That means that we want to do shows that speak to a variety of cultures and individuals.”
For many years, the troupe bounced around.
“We performed wherever we could,” Lawson said.
Finally, in the 2000s, most of Theatre Alliance’s shows were performed at The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) on Marguerite Drive in Winston-Salem.
In 2008, when SECCA underwent some renovations and was going to close for a while to the public, which meant Theatre Alliance would not be able to perform there, the troupe decided to find its own space rather than stop performing. That same year, Theatre Alliance started renting space on Northwest Boulevard, where it remained until earlier this year.
Lawson has been the artistic director since 2001. He is the only paid staff member of Theatre Alliance.
“Everything else is volunteer from our performers to our office staff to the people who clean up and virtually all other aspects,” he said.
He said that some of their designers, such as the set designer and the lighting and sound people, are paid a small stipend.
Theatre Alliance has always offered shows in intimate spaces, and there were concerns by fans that if it moved into a larger venue, the community theater group would lose some of that intimacy or change the vibe.
“That’s not the case at all,” Lawson said. “We still have that same intimate feeling.”
Lawson said they are excited about the new season. Green Day’s “American Idiot” will be the theater’s last outdoor performance for the summer. Final show dates are July 23, 24 and 25. The first indoor performance on the mainstage in the new building will be the musical “Something Rotten.” The cast is in rehearsals, and performance dates are Aug. 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29.
Lawson said that everyone who sees Theatre Alliance’s new home thinks that it’s beautiful.
“It really is,” he said. “I’m so proud of the space, and I can’t wait for people to come inside and start enjoying theater inside again. I’ve really missed hearing people laugh as a crowd. “
Actors Heather Levinson and Gray Smith, both of Winston-Salem, said they love the new space. Both of them have been with Theatre Alliance for about 20 years and have parts in “Something Rotten.”
Levinson said that Theatre Alliance’s new dedicated space for the performing arts is a big upgrade for the theater and Winston-Salem.
“We’re always happy to perform for Winston-Salem but now to be able to have this gorgeous venue to bring our community together, especially after the year we’ve just had,” Levinson said. “As a performer and a community member, I’m so excited. I think just looking out and seeing those seats filled with people is going to be a really emotional moment.”
Smith said he is appreciative of how the community has supported the theater amid COVID and other times over the years.
While he is experiencing some sadness saying goodbye to the old space on Northwest Boulevard, he said he is happy to say hello to something new.
“It’s a dream come true for us to have a much nicer space,” Smith said.