Sunday, March 03, 2013

Arts & Extras: Star City Playhouse returns to footlights with Sylvia;

Arts & Extras column

Mike Allen, arts and culture columnist

Mike Allen, arts columnist

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The curtain will rise again on Roanoke's Star City Playhouse.

Even though, technically, the little theater has no curtain in its new location.

Its comeback production, A.R. Gurney's comedy "Sylvia," opens March 22. It has a small cast, which makes it ideal for testing the new space in the community room of Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge.

"We're delighted to be back. We never say die," said Marlow Ferguson, who co-founded the theater with his wife, Karon.

Founded in 2007, the theater's future became precarious when the couple faced foreclosure on the building they purchased on Williamson Road. In August 2010, the bank bought the building at auction and soon after, another landlord took over. Star City Playhouse had been homeless since May 2011.

Late last year members of Metropolitan Community Church at 806 Jamison Ave. S.E. put Ferguson in touch with Pastor Joe Cobb, who offered Ferguson the use of the community room stage, as well as rooms in the historic 30,000-square-foot building for storing props.

The theater doesn't have to pay rent, though it shares a portion of box office proceeds with the church. "They've been very good to us," Ferguson said.

In December, Star City Playhouse started moving in. Ferguson, 76, called the move "exhausting and difficult. It was a massive amount of stuff." Star City Playhouse once held five tractor-trailer loads of props and costumes in its Williamson Road building. A number of props Ferguson acquired from companies such as the New York City Opera had to be left behind, as they're too large for the new stage.

Ferguson said he's still sorting out where things go. In the meantime, rehearsals for "Sylvia" began two weeks ago. "As we're rehearsing I'm building the set around the actors," he quipped.

The play tells the story of the turmoil caused in a middle-aged couple's home when the husband brings home a dog he found in the city park - the Sylvia of the title. A jealousy-fueled comic rivalry develops between Sylvia and her new owner's wife, which playwright A.R. Gurney ("Love Letters") underscores by calling for an actress to play the part of the dog.

Ferguson said 18-year-old Lauren Butler - referred to him by Kevin Jones of the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio in Roanoke County -plays Sylvia.

If all goes as planned, Star City Playhouse will put on three plays through July. Ferguson has in mind the drama "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams and the farce "Black Comedy" by Peter Shaffer to round out the short season. Then he hopes to launch a full five-play season in the fall.

Star City Coffee House will sell coffee, tea and desserts at performances of "Sylvia" and the shows that follow through July, Ferguson said. The Salvation Army is allowing its parking lot to be used for overflow if the church parking lot fills, he said.

"We're seeing how many of our audience comes back and how many new audience members we pick up," he said.

Showtimes are 7 p.m. March 22; 2 p.m. March 23-24; 7 p.m. March 29; 2 p.m. March 30-31; 7 p.m. April 5; 2 p.m. April 6-7. Admission $12, seniors and students $8. For more information, call 366-1446 or visit Star City Playhouse on Facebook.

Sidewalk Art signup

The Taubman Museum of Art is taking applications for its Sidewalk Art Show, a Roanoke mainstay now in its 55th year.

Last year the museum generated controversy by doing away with fences used for displays - and the lower-cost spots they afforded - and only allowing tents. Despite the hubbub, museum officials and participating artists declared last year's show a success, aided by favorable weather.

Judging by this year's prospectus, mailed Feb. 12, the fences are gone for good. So far this year, there's been no complaint, said Vice President for Institutional Advancement Kim Williamson.

The application can be downloaded at There's also a $35 entry fee. In addition, a 10-foot-by-10-foot space to place a tent costs $200, and a tent can be purchased for $75.

The deadline to apply is March 15. The show, sponsored by Kroger, takes place June 1 and 2. For more information, call 204-4123, email or visit

Link student show

The O. Winston Link Museum will open an photography show 6 p.m. Friday that was created and curated by Cave Spring High School students. Titled "The Little Things," the student show ties into the Link's main exhibition, "Photographs of Vivian Maier."

Museum education coordinator Shannon Lugar, a Cave Spring graduate, came up with the idea, and the group of student curators took the name "C.Link." The photographs will be on display through April 5. The museum's hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Admission $5; senior citizens $4.50; children 3-11 $4. For more information, call 982-5465 or visit

"mARTch Madness"

The Salem Museum & Historical Society at 801 E. Main St. will open an art show by Salem High School students Friday.

The show, called "mARTch Madness" - a name chosen by the students - will be on display through March 23. The museum's hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information, call 389-6760 or email

Galax school grant

Founded in 2009, the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax offers classes in a variety of art disciplines and crafts, as well as art and music programming.

The school will be building a woodworking studio with assistance from a $500,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant awarded to the city for the project earlier this month. A fundraising campaign continues, as the school estimates the cost of constructing the studio and staffing it for two years at $1.1million.

The new structure will house classes in furniture-making, instrument-building, and woodworking, and provide space for display. For more information, call 276-236-3500 or

On the Arts blog

Acclaimed as one of the most accomplished classical musicians America has ever produced, pianist Van Cliburn died Feb. 27 at age 78. Read about his performances in Roanoke, including one with Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, at

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