What a whirlwind the past six months have been! We hope this message finds you well. Preparations for the 2020-21 Season, COVID edition, have been underway for sometime, constantly changing and adjusting. Our efforts continue.
The Abbey Players are respectfully attempting to present a slate of plays for the 137th season of theatre on campus. Since 1883, live theatre at Belmont Abbey College has provided both entertainment and inspiration through crisis after crisis. We have endured wars, pandemics, natural disasters, and periods of social unrest. Throughout these events, the Abbey Players have offered mental and spiritual refreshment to the students, faculty, staff and monastic community, and to many generous supporters beyond our campus borders as well. We are determined to make the same effort in the COVID-19 age, though it currently looks different than what we had hoped.
Due to the ongoing statewide restrictions on entertainment venues currently in effect through October 2, and out of an abundance of caution for the safety and welfare of our patrons, we cannot offer public performances to our wonderful off-campus patrons just yet. Though we have held out hope til the last possible moment, we must honor the statewide directives and the final decision received earlier today from the college administration. The first production of the season, Talley's Folly, will be offered only to our current students, faculty, and staff as an extension of our educational mission, with a maximum attendance of 25 people per performance.
For the 2020-21 season, we will not offer season memberships. While it pains us to have to postpone the strong connections we have with our season members, it only makes sense, since we cannot currently welcome everyone to the theatre. In addition, the majority of our patrons who responded to last month's survey said that they would not plan to return at the beginning of the season, understandably. Our hope is that perhaps as soon as November, we will see as many of you as are comfortable at The Haid with our second production, should restrictions on public events be loosened. We would like to be able to offer single tickets to all patrons and complimentary tickets to our 2019-20 season members when the time comes that we are able to welcome you back. We will be in touch soon about the rest of the season. In the meantime, know that our off-campus supporters are greatly missed, and we look forward to a reunion as soon as possible!
Our prayers for you continue. Please keep our college students, faculty, and staff in your thoughts, as we all navigate the ongoing challenges of these pandemic times. Please also remember those Abbey Players within our community who are serving in essential capacities, as we remember all of our patrons who are serving throughout our communities. Donations to our Annual Fund are always needed and appreciated and can be made HERE, for those who have asked about supporting us this season.
We have some new ideas in the works of how to continue to share joy, laughter, perhaps music and stories with you digitally in the coming weeks and months. Please be sure you’re following us on Facebook. Click HERE to be taken to our Facebook page, like us, and you’ll receive updates in your newsfeed.
Thank you for your wonderful support of The Abbey Players!
In the fall of 1883, one hundred and thirty-seven years ago, Chester Arthur was the U.S. President. There were thirty-eight stars on the American flag. We were eighteen years out from the Civil War, enjoying a rare decade of peace. The Brooklyn Bridge was opened for traffic following ten years of construction. The first woman was hired for a position in the federal civil service. The Supreme Court rolled back the 1875 Civil Rights Act, allowing businesses to discriminate on the basis of race when hiring. Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and black civil rights advocate died; so did Alexander Stephens, the first and only Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. Despite the fact that this period is known as “The Gilded Age”, known for its excess and displays of wealth, the nation as a whole was in the middle of a three year depression.
Belmont Abbey College was seven years old, having been founded in April 1876 by monks sent from St. Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania. They arrived by train in Garabaldi, as Belmont was then known, and were taken by wagon to a frame house on what had been the Caldwell Plantation before the Civil War. Three students came with them, and classes began the same day. During the next several years, the fledgling institution was swept by disease and financial difficulties.
The monks were so intimidated by the hardships that they begged Archabbot Boniface of St. Vincent’s to close the monastery and allow them to return home. Instead, the Archabbot decided it was time for the small foundation to become independent. He asked for volunteers, and the first twelve monks were allowed to elect their own abbot, who would become the pivotal figure for the first one hundred years of the monastery and the College it sponsors. The new community elected Father Leo Haid, OSB, a young instructor in the Humanities with a passion for. . . theatre. You were probably wondering where this was going! Shortly after Haid arrived to take up the leadership of both the College and the Abbey of Mary Help of Christians, to give Belmont Abbey its proper name, he instituted the practice of performing plays as readings. This continued throughout the next two years until there were sufficient students and interest to justify the first full scale production in Jubilee Hall, the College’s first theatre.
Haid wrote plays for the students to perform, and he nurtured the theatre during the formative years until drama found a permanent home in what is now Grace Auditorium atop St. Leo, erected in 1906. There were plays every year, and Haid particularly enjoyed presentations on the great days of the academic year. It has continued, with welcome changes. During the 1970s, community members began to participate in productions of what by then was known as the Abbey Players.
More than a dozen directors have come and gone. After twenty years in poor quarters, the Haid Theatre was created as the permanent home for the Players in 1987. Season tickets were added, and the Abbey Players also took on the role as the community theatre for Belmont. Which brings us to this season. The history of the theatre in Belmont now stretches across three centuries. Thank you for being a part of it, and helping ensure that we make it into the twenty-first century and beyond, a strong, vital element in the cultural life of both the College and the surrounding area we call home!
The Abbey Players of Belmont Abbey College were founded in 1883, and have been an integral part of campus life for 136 continuous seasons. At present, the theatre produces six offerings a year, representing a wide repertoire of drama, comedy, and musicals. Recent notable productions have included Mary Zimmerman's Arabian Nights, Shakespeare's Othello and Much Ado About Nothing, John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar, Meredith Willson's The Music Man, Antigone, The Seagull, and Wait Until Dark. In addition, the Players present The Abbey Shakespeare Series, an ongoing project dedicated to producing each of William Shakespeare’s plays.
Rehearsal of Spoon River Anthology (2012-13)
Participation in the Abbey Players is open to any interested member of the Belmont Abbey College community, including those in the surrounding areas; community members, students, faculty, staff and monks regularly appear together and we bring in theatre artists from the surrounding Metrolina area. Our audiences are drawn from both Gaston County, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, and beyond. All auditions are open, and audition notices appear both on-campus, in local newspapers, and on social media.
In addition to performance opportunities, the Abbey Players welcomes anyone interested in technical work. Under the direction of Professor and Technical Director Gary Sivak (BFA, UNC-Charlotte), technicians build sets, design and hang light/sound plots, and run shows through state-of-the-art instruments. Technicians trained by the Abbey Players have been accepted into MFA programs such as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro based upon the strengths of their portfolios alone, since Belmont Abbey College offers a theatre minor, and not a bachelor’s degree. Student actors at Belmont Abbey College have been accepted into programs at such diverse institutions as the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, University of Washington, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the HB Studio Hagen Core Training Program and the ALRA MA Professional Acting Program in London.