The Mission of The Old Courthouse Theatre is to offer quality theatrical performances for all to enjoy
Detailed History of Old Courthouse Theatre
The Historic Courthouse was set for demolition in 1975. Historic Cabarrus, Inc., a group formed to preserve the history of Cabarrus County, went before the County Commissioners to ask for a reprieve to preserve the 99-year-old building. Some felt that Concord needed another parking lot and the building was to be torn down to make way for progress. The Commissioners granted Historic Cabarrus six months to present bids for restoration and to determine a use for the building.
Consistent with most successful ventures the theater began as one person's dream. On May 5, 1976 without much fanfare Third Century Artist Mary Snead Boger held a meeting at Hotel Concord for those interested in forming a community theater in Cabarrus County. There had been a community theater group, The Concord Little Theatre, in Concord during the early fifties but it was no longer active. Mrs. Boger placed 25 chairs in the hotel ballroom and hoped there would be enough interest to fill them. Before the evening ended more than 70 people attended and contributed five dollars to become Charter Members of this unnamed dream. Mrs. Boger, looking for theater space, joined with Historic Cabarrus, Inc. in a successful effort to save the "old courthouse" and was granted the use of the second floor courtroom for the theater. The Old Courthouse Theatre was born.
For its first production Mrs. Boger wrote, auditioned, cast, and directed a variety Chautauqua show performed in June. Mrs. Boger choose the two day play to quickly introduce Cabarrus County to the beginning potential of the theater, to give Cabarrus County an opportunity to see the potential in the "old courthouse," to show that the group was serious and a variety of local talent could be used. OCT presented "Cabarrus Chautauqua" with 12 acts representing real stars that may have actually performed in and around the area during 1890's to 1910's on June 25th and 26th to sold out audiences. Now with almost 200 charter members The Old Courthouse Theatre had become a reality. The point was proven. Cabarrus County was ready and eager for live theater.
Many people helped in the efforts to save the "old courthouse" but two stand out. Mary Snead Boger with her efforts to bring the cultural arts to Cabarrus County and give a proven use for the old building by the formation and leadership of the Old Courthouse Theatre and Robert Burrage. Mr. Burrage began a fund raising drive for Historic Cabarrus and appeared before the County Commissioners to convince them that the historic structure should be saved. He appealed to everyone from school children to businesses for donations from dimes to thousands in money or donations of labor and paint. Many others who could not donate money gave freely of their time to paint, clean, cut back the ivy that had spread almost through the windows on the second floor, or to catch and remove the pigeons humanely from the old clock tower. By the time OCT's first season production was presented in November a fresh coat of paint covered the old building inside and out. OCT was credited by many as sparking the drive that saved the 1876 courthouse from the wrecker's ball.
The First Season
That first season the people of Cabarrus County saw a serious drama, "The Lark; " a comedy, "Finishing Touches;" and a musical, "Brigadoon." All played to sold out audiences. OCT goals were and continue to be to present quality theater, to provide opportunities for the citizens of Cabarrus County and the surrounding area to participate in the experience of a live theater production whether on stage, back stage, or as an audience member. "Theater is possibly the most encompassing of all art forms. It satisfies the creative talents, not only of those who want to act, sing, or dance, but there is a need for visual artists, people skilled in make-up, set design, business abilities, ticket sales, promotion, lighting, costuming, and sewing. OCT is for everyone in the county with a need for self expression and it needs an appreciative and supportive audience." Mrs. Boger told the press after the first season.
For the next five seasons OCT became a moving force in broadening the cultural awareness of our community and the surrounding counties. During the fifth season Mrs. Boger entered the North Carolina Theatre Conference one act play competition with the play "The Lover." "The Lover" was probably one of the most sophisticated pieces of theater ever presented in Cabarrus County. The actors John Nordan, Linda Pierce, and Richard Moore impressed the judges and walked away with the Best Play, Best Actor, and Best Actress Awards. This accomplishment by OCT helped to secure more grant money to continue the restoration effort. Local and state dignitaries attended a performance after the award winning group returned home including Sarah Hodgins, secretary of Cultural Resources of North Carolina, who presented OCT a $12,000 restoration grant to help upgrade the theater.
The Sky Is Falling
OCT was riding on the crest of a state
award winning play and a successful season when the ceiling fell in
-literally. During a dress rehearsal for the last play of that fifth
season, "Sweet Charity," chunks of plaster dropped from the theater
ceiling just above the stage. No one was injured, but finishing details
on the set were delayed. The play was to open in four days. The
construction company made temporary repairs and the play went on as
scheduled. Historic Cabarrus, Inc., the lessee of the building,
discovered during those repairs that extensive repairs were necessary to
the roof as well as the ceiling. OCT was forced to vacate the building
and the entire upstairs area was demolished. Historic Cabarrus, Inc.
organized a fund raising campaign to "Repair the roof and fix the
theater area." Members of Historic Cabarrus, Inc. and Old Courthouse
Theatre, Inc. went before the County Commissioners to ask for an
allocation of $60,000 for the emergency repairs. This was a one time
only request. It was estimated that repairs would cost $120,000. The
Cannon Foundation had agreed to donate $40,000 providing the other
$80,000 could be raised by September. The County Commissioners turn them
down with a 3-2 vote. The reasoning was that Historic Cabarrus, Inc.
had signed a five-year lease agreement that mandated the county "shall
have no obligations or duties concerning the maintenance, preservation,
or upkeep of the premises." and no tax money was to be used. Supporters
of Historic Cabarrus, Inc. and Old Courthouse Theatre, Inc. reminded the
commissioners of the volunteer hours and the over $200,000 raised in
the restoration effort of the county owned building. Not one cent was
tax money. A similar request was made to the Concord Aldermen who
initially turned them down but then voted to give Historic Cabarrus,
Inc. $3000. This money was a portion from the sale of an old fire truck
and not tax money. News of the plight of the "old" courthouse went all
the way to Governor Jim Hunt. Gov. Hunt and Eighth District Congressman
Bill Hefner indicated they would help secure funds for the restoration
project. Rep. Dwight Quinn sponsored a special appropriations bill for
$50,000. In the meantime, Historic Cabarrus, Inc. and Old Courthouse
Theatre, Inc. stepped up their efforts to raise funds. Ultimately monies
were raised from grants and donations from businesses and individuals.
Restoration work could continue and OCT would be back at "home" soon.
The Gypsy Years Began
OCT presented four seasons or fourteen
plays at Winecoff School, Concord High School, and Concord Middle School
auditoriums. Storing props, costumes, set pieces, lighting instruments,
and all the "stuff' needed for productions in basements; attics, sheds,
truck trailers, and homes. Rehearsals were held where space could be
found. The school auditoriums were often hard to find for newcomers and
had to be rented for rehearsals and performances. Props, costumes, and
set pieces had to be put away each night because classes used the stage
and "dressing rooms" as schoolrooms during the day. The uniqueness of
OCT was hard to maintain outside of its physical home. It was hard being
dispossessed carting "stuff' back and forth. Everyone worked hard to
keep the artistic quality high, but along the way patrons, props,
costumes, and patience was lost. The cost of renting the school
auditoriums, and storage space had become almost prohibitive adding
about $2000 per play. With each production the hope continued that soon
OCT would be home in a beautiful new theater at the historic courthouse.
Plans were made to return for the 1983-84 season.
The theater had been asked to raise
$100,000 to be used exclusively toward the theater area proper. It did
so and the monies were put in escrow to be used for theater purposes.
These monies were not used in any restoration of the Historic
Courthouse. In the fall of 1983 the new roof and clock tower were
finished, but the second floor was still gutted. At that time OCT was
informed that the theater should raise $300,000 for the theater area
because funds for further renovation were unavailable. OCT must also do
this without being given a long-term lease on the theater space; no
control over use of the space; no storage space, and must pay a minimum
of $500 a month rent. OCT had approached several foundations that were
seriously interested in funding the theater but would not consider any
arrangement that did not include at least a 25-year lease and control of
leased area. With reluctance OCT realized the necessity to move from
the Historic Courthouse and look for a new home.
In December 1983 it was announced that
OCT had bought the old Belk Building in downtown Concord. The 50,000
square feet would provide office, rehearsal, storage, and scene shop
space. The ninth season would be performed in the school auditoriums,
but rehearsals could be held in the Belk building. OCT hired an
architectural firm to research and draw plans for the new theater. It
was estimated that the Belk building could be made into a splendid
facility, but due to stringent building codes the cost would be $2.5
million. It was an amount well beyond OCT's means. Once again it seemed
OCT would be homeless.
A New Home
In April 1984 OCT petitioned for
re-zoning of the First Baptist Church property on Spring Street NW.
First Baptist was moving to new facilities on Branchview Drive. OCT
asked for an option to buy the building. The church building would give
OCT all the space needed for an auditorium, stage, dressing area,
storage, and office space with minimal renovation. The Belk building
would be sold. The Concord Planning and Zoning Board approved the
request. The Historic District Commission gave their approval. In
October 1984 First Baptist agreed to sell the building on Spring Street
By the beginning of its tenth season OCT finally had a
home. In September almost everything was moved from all the storage
spaces and into the old First Baptist building on the comer of Spring
and Grove Streets. The first production in the new facility was, "The
Glass Menagerie," opened in November. A temporary stage was built and
cushions were added to the old church pews. A capital fund raising
campaign to renovate the building had begun.
The excellent reputation of the quality
theater productions and the tenacity of Mary Snead Boger helped to
secure the rights for the musical "Evita" and the British farce "Noises
Off' before any amateur theater in the US. In November 1986 OCT received
the state award "For Leadership in Theatre Arts in North Carolina."
"The fine acting, totality of professionalism and warm giving spirit of
OCT has proved a stimulation to, and an inspiration for theater all over
North Carolina." Over the past six years OCT had entered the NCTC one
act play competition and had won awards for best play, best actress,
runner-up for best play, and three times for best actor.
Our Founder Resigns
In August 1987 Mrs. Boger announced she
would resign as artistic director at the end of the season. It came as a
surprise, but she said it was time to do something else. Her dream had
become an award winning Community Theater that was well respected over
the state and the region. Actors and patrons would feel the loss alike.
The board of directors formed a committee and the search for her
successor commenced. Applications came from all over the world.
The search committee completed their
task in the spring of 1988. A nationally- known director and playwright
from Washington State, Michael Brill, was named as Artistic Director.
During Mr. Brill's short time with OCT the community saw an innovative
version of "The Brief and Comic History of Tom Jones," "Vanities" and
another state award winning play, "Lemonade."
Mr. Brill had come from a very
metropolitan area and small town life was not to his liking. He wasn't
happy and had difficulty with an all-volunteer base.
Once again a search was conducted. The
remainder of the season was guest directed. By the end of the season a
new Artistic Director was named. Dawson Corley, a native of Louisiana,
began 1989/90 season with the American classic, "Look Homeward, Angel."
The cast and crew traveled to Asheville to visit the Thomas Wolfe
Memorial. The trip was extraordinary because as the cast and crew were
researching their roles, the production crew from CBS' "Sunday Morning
with Charles Kuralt followed them around." The production crew also came
to Concord to film a performance to be featured in September. In August
OCT received a visitor from Great Britain who had been traveling for
the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and had heard of OCT. Mr. Corley
started the Old Courthouse Youth Theatre with the production of "The
Best Christmas Pageant Ever." He also directed Noel Coward's witty
comedy "Blithe Spirit," and the Sondheim musical "A Little Night Music."
By February 1990 OCT had lost another Artistic Director. Mr. Corley and
OCT dissolved their contract through mutual agreement.
The search continued. The next two
productions were guest directed. Michael Ricci directed “Steel
Magnolias” the last play of the season, who had guest directed the
previous season. The Board offered Mr. Ricci, a New York native, a
three-year contract and he became the third Artistic Director in two
seasons. Mr. Ricci continued the American classics and the youth
theater. The youth theater productions of Shakespearean adaptations were
Mr. Ricci started the Off Broadway
series and acting workshops. The OCT Guild started its fund raiser the
Annual New Year's Eve Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre. OCT continued for
the three years of Mr. Ricci's contract. But the problems with
maintenance of the old church building were eating into the budget
faster than plays could be performed and the funding could be replaced.
At the end of the third year, OCT had to release Mr. Ricci from his
contract because it was becoming increasingly more difficult to pay him,
support the building and productions.
At that time the board made the decision
to continue with guest directors until it was possible to hire a full
time director. During the 1993/94 season there was a paid business
manager. From 1994 until 1997 all of the productions were guest directed
and a volunteer then ran the office. During this time OCT received
national exposure for a second time when "The Sound of Music" was
performed with Daniel Truhitte in the role of Captain Von Trapp. Mr.
Truhitte had appeared in the movie version as Rolf. OCT won, for the
third time, Best Play at the North Carolina Theatre Conference for the
play "A Novel Romance." The guest directors did outstanding work on very
tight budgets. Still something was missing -Continuity.
At the end of the 1996/97 season the
board once again decided the time was right to hire a full time Artistic
Director. This time they chose a hometown girl who had recently
graduated from Catawba College in Salisbury with a Theatre Arts Degree.
Heather Wilson had guest directed two one act plays and on the main
stage for OCT after college. She was also very familiar with OCT, its
crews, actors, and patrons. Heather had appeared in OCT productions
under the direction of Mary Snead Boger, had worked back stage, appeared
as Agnes in "Agnes of God," and most recently had appeared in the OCT
award winning play “A Novel Romance." At the beginning of the 1997/98
season, Ms. Wilson became OCT's fifth Artistic Director.
The 2000/2001 season will begin Ms.
Wilson's fourth season at OCT. She has brought with her creativity, an
eye for detail, a passion for quality, enthusiasm, and the ability to
work with actors and crew of all ages. Having been an actress, she knows
what it is like to be on the other side of the foot lights. She is also
an excellent representative for the theater. Growing up in Concord has
given her knowledge of the surrounding communities. The actor and crew
base has grown as well as the season ticket subscribers. She gives the
best that is in her to OCT and her community and expects no less from
the casts and crews of the productions. She wants to continue the dream
started by Mary Snead Boger in 1976 and give opportunities to the
citizens of Cabarrus County and the surrounding area the opportunity to
participate in the magic of live theater whether as a performer or as an
audience member. She wants to direct a variety of plays not only the
safe choices but also plays that make the audience think and challenge
the actors and director to do their best.
Old Courthouse Theatre, Inc. has come a
long way from the Historic Courthouse courtroom. Sometimes the way has
not been an easy one, but that makes those who have been there
appreciate the accomplishments even more. Passion, dedication, and pure
stubbornness have kept the dream alive. OCT is still staffed and run by
volunteers. All actors and crew are volunteers with "real" jobs and
families. OCT is still supported primarily by the sale of season
tickets, Producing Partners or Sponsors, the Grassroots Grant through
the Cabarrus Arts Council, Inc. and individual ticket sales. OCT
receives no city or county money. OCT gives tickets to Cabarrus County
non-profit organizations for their fund raising. Plays cost from $4000
for a comedy or drama to $12,000 for a musical depending on the
elaborateness of costumes and set and the royalty rights. The building
still needs repairs and maintenance. Donations of time, supplies, and
money are always needed and welcomed.
Will OCT ever change its name? No. Old
Courthouse Theatre has never changed its name because we want people to
remember where we began and we are proud of our beginnings. The name is
well recognized and respected in the region. Everyone is welcome as long
as they desire to give their best to make all productions live up to
the standard of quality that so long has been a part of an Old
Courthouse Theatre production.