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Lights Up on the New Sonorous Road Studio

No business intends to pack up and move house after only two years in action.

When North Carolina State University bought the standalone space at 209 Oberlin Road, the Sonorous Road Film and Theatre Studio had to take the show on the road. The Royal Bakery building on Hillsborough Street, to be precise. Right across from Meredith College.

While not necessarily meant as its “forever home,” Sonorous made many upgrades to the Oberlin location in its two years, notably its shiny black, hardwood stage floor. The footsteps of dozens of local productions skipped across those boards, which were pulled up and carried across town under the supervision of resident Technical Director Anthony Buckner. The LED lighting, sound and projection systems were rehung on a higher, newly-constructed grid and, thankfully, plans exist to increase the number and types of lights in the performance space.

Owner and artistic director Michelle Murray Wells, Managing Director Josh Wells, and Associate Artistic Director Zachary Roberts have put their energy into audience comfort and rentability.

Increased parking space, an interior entrance, and a roomier, more stylish lobby make for a more relaxing visit. Newly-installed cinema seats are infinitely more comfortable than the prior seating, some of which is still in use. In line with its mission as an educational facility, the new seating includes small flip-up desks, similar to a college lecture hall. The Oberlin space sat 99 spectators, while the new space seats a cozy 95.

Sonorous Road Theatre’s 95-seat performance space (Photo by Dustin K. Britt)

Sonorous now has the luxury of a fully-developed secondary space, with seating for 30 and a small lighting grid for classes, auditions, and small performances. As before, Sonorous maintains a small space for photography and videography classes.

Visitors can round out an evening of theatre without a trip to the car. Sonorous shares the internal central lobby of the the Historic Royal shopping center (formerly The Royal Baking Company) with Jasmin Mediterranean Bistro, Lucky Tree gallery and coffee house, Ben & Jerry’s, and Brickhouse Sports Bar and Grille. ComedyWorx will soon be joining the pack.

While square footage has reduced (from 5000 sq ft to 4400 sq ft), the layout is more user-friendly. A dressing room, wide backstage areas, four stage entrances, and separate box office and concessions spaces make the facility appear larger. Inadequate storage space, however, still proves an issue.

Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio (Photo by Dustin K. Britt)

With a 10% increase in rental costs from the Oberlin site, Wells has signed a five-year lease with a renewal option. At Saturday’s brief post-ribbon cutting presentation, Wells hinted that an additional location may become necessary down the road, if Sonorous maintains its growing success with summer camps, theatre and film classes, in-house productions, and rentals to local itinerant theatre companies.

By late February, over 100 donors had pledged a total of $10,373 via a Kickstarter campaign to support the expansion.

Supporters gather as owner Michelle Murray Wells cuts the ribbon (Photo by Dustin K. Britt)

This weekend’s grand re-opening festivities included a sponsor’s gala on Friday night and a public ribbon-cutting on Saturday afternoon, followed by a reception and facility tour. Around 50 sponsors attended Friday’s sponsor’s gala and more than 100 were on hand to see Wells cut the ribbon. An 11-member ComedyWorx team was on hand to christen the stage with some improv sweat after the facility tour. Sponsors of the grand re-opening included Live It Up! Hillsborough Street and the Women’s Theatre Festival.

Bare Theatre is co-presenting the studio’s inaugural production: a two-show revival of Allan Maule’s EverScape, which had its North Carolina premier last October. This limited engagement, again directed by Heather J. Strickland, runs Saturday, June 3 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, June 4 at 3:00 PM.

Since the December closing of Durham’s Common Ground Theatre, the future of local itinerant theatres has been uncertain. Thankfully for repeat customers like South Stream Productions, Bare Theatre, and the Women’s Theatre Festival, Wells and Sonorous Road are open for business and do not appear to be packing up any time soon.

Sonorous Road Theatre’s newly-installed lighting grid (Photo by Dustin K. Britt)

EverScape. Tickets: sonorousroad.ticketleap.com/everscape–the-new-sonorous-road

Sonorous Road Film & Theatre Studio. Official website: www.sonorousroad.com/reopening

Triangle Arts & Entertainment October 2016 review by Dustin K. Britt: Allan Maule’s Ingenious EverScape Is the Theatrical Event of the Season

IndyWeek article by Byron Woods: Common Ground Closed. Sonorous Road Might Be Next. Is It Curtains for Small, Affordable Theaters in the Triangle?

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor, director, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.

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Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature