ROCKINGHAM — Alumni from Richmond Community Theatre’s 40 years of existence took the stage together Thursday evening at Cole Plaza to celebrate its anniversary.
Anyone who had been involved — from actors and actresses to ushers, board members and everyone in between — were invited to take part in the event.
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris spoke about the history of the theater and how its roots started at Richmond Technical Institute, which later became Richmond Community College.
Morris said there was a group of people there that spearheaded the project of trying to see if Richmond County could have a permanent theater and “were very instrumental in turning the wheels and getting the money raised so that this dream would become a reality.”
The doors officially opened in 1977 with the first play being the “Never Too Late,” he said.
The Rockingham Woman’s Club sold tickets and manned the box office for the first 20 years the theater was open, Morris went on to say. The City of Rockingham, early on, partnered with the theater and provided money to help “when the theater didn’t have enough to do everything they wanted to do.”
The city continues to be a partner 40 years later.
“I think we bought two or three buildings, sold them back four or five times when cash flow was short, but it always seemed to work out, and we’re grateful for that,” the mayor said. “The Richmond Community Theatre was one of three projects that Rockingham did to earn the All-American City award in 1980. Each community had to submit three projects that they did and this was one of those that helped the city become an All-American City. It’s had a great history, we’re glad about what’s going on there and we’re looking forward to the next 40 years.”
Former theater director David Arial, who helped put on plays for the first 30 years the theater was open, shared a few words about the importance of having a community theater and what it means to a small town.
“Forty years ago, I was 27. The idea was to send these artists into the woods, send them into places that they thought were culturally backward and prove that it wasn’t they were backward at all — (it was) that they didn’t have opportunity,” he said. “What we set about doing was create that opportunity, and I’m very happy and happy for all of you that it still exists today for everyone and for the future.
“When you look at surrounding counties, they don’t have community theaters. They don’t exist,” Arial continued. “You would think Moore County above all would be in a great position, but this is another thing that’s made Richmond County unique and a very important place to live. The most important thing about community theater is community.”
Arial talked about the theater being an X-rated movie theater before it became what it is today, which he thought was great because it made it easier to obtain the building.
He went before city council and told them he had a building and added the council couldn’t have been more delighted to get rid of an X-rated theater downtown.
The previous owner said he was trying something different to get people downtown, but business models were changing in the 1970s.
“The people from the Wadesboro theater would come to Rockingham, and the people from Rockingham would go to Wadesboro to their X-rated theater. Rockingham’s population was larger,” joked Arial. “They gave us the theater, the city gladly accepted it, we then began door-to-door campaigns, raising sometimes a buck. What it did was people became stakeholders in the theater. They gave a dollar, but then they came to see their dollar.
“This is a unique community,” he continued. “I was here on a two-year contract, and I stayed on for a little bit longer. I’ve enjoyed it here, I love the people here and thank you for all that you’ve done and thank you, more importantly, for what you will do. This place exists for you.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.