UNCG Campus Weekly

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Back to Banjos and the Blue Ridge

052610Headline_TriadStageYou’re watching Shakespeare’s “Pericles.” You see a scene of a father finding a lost family member. You’re inspired.

You think, What if if took that and created a musical drama, placing it in the twentieth century?

The setting? How about a mountain farm … and a Piedmont mill village … and WW I battlefields?

One of the roles you’ll write for a UNCG student who has just graduated, T.J. Austin, one of the most impressive young actors you’ve seen in a long time. “He’s getting his first professional role – and joining the Actor’s Union as a result of it,” you tell others.

You don’t go back and read “Pericles.” You just create, using that germ of an idea, as you write. You collaborate with a musician, Laurelyn Dossett. She writes the songs, featuring banjo, mandolin and guitar.

That’s been Preston Lane’s experience over the past two years, writing and collaborating while working on other Triad Stage plays. The result is Triad Stage’s “Providence Gap,” which opens June 6 at Triad Stage in downtown Greensboro.

Preston Lane has been an adjunct professor in UNCG’s Theatre Department since 2001. In the late 1990’s, he and Richard Whittington were looking to create a professional theatre in just the right city. The reasons they chose Greensboro? Lane lists three factors: “UNCG. The downtown was ready to come to life … and the community itself.”

In creating a professional theatre, part of their dream was economic development, he says. Downtown’s Elm Street at that time was virtually deserted after 5 p.m. and on weekends. “We wanted to drive revitalization of an area. We believe that the arts can be an economic generator. We are proof of that and we are proud of that.”

Triad Stage brings theatre-goers downtown to more than 225 performances a year.

Since its opening in 2002, many new restaurants, night spots and stores have opened. Downtown apartments and condos are in demand. Triad Stage was a catalyst in downtown’s resurgence.

He noted that on a recent evening, it took him and others at Triad Stage a while to find a parking space. “It’s all our fault,” they happily commiserated.

At UNCG, Lane teaches three courses a year and is co-coordinator of the MFA Directing program. Three candidates are currently completing their second year. Theatre department head Jim Fisher, a Triad Stage board of trustees member, is the other co-coordinator.

When Lane, an MFA graduate of Yale School of Drama, was approached to help lead the MFA Directing program, “I said I’d love to see that program develop, as part of a relationship with Triad Stage,” Lane says.

“I’m so inspired by the students I work with.” Two of the students are directing Theatre 232 late night shows at Triad Stage, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” and “The Actor’s Dilemma,” both by Chrisopher Durang. One of his students will direct “Pericles” at UNCG in the upcoming season.

This marks Lane’s fourth collaboration with Laurelyn Dossett, who earned her MS at UNCG in counseling and educational development in 1999. The previous three plays were “Brother Wolf,” “Beautiful Star” and “Bloody Blackbeard.” In his blog, Lane says they had two objectives: to return to the setting of the Blue Ridge mountains and finally create a play that does not start with B.

Dossett’s work in creating the music for “Bloody Blackbeard” was featured in the summer 2008 UNCG Magazine. Dossett performs in “Providence Gap” along with other musicians.

“We work really, really well together,” he says. He is sometimes approached by other musicians, he says, but tells them “Laurelyn and I are booked up for the next 50 years.”

He ticks off the many ties Triad Stage has with UNCG. Jim Wren co-wrote and directs the Theatre 232 children’s play “Koko Karate and the Kung Fu Kittens” and helps oversee Theatre 232. John Wolf does lighting. Christine Morris is vocal coach and acts. Denise Gabriel is movement coach. Jody Cauthen works on marketing.

“A great partnership between the two” year-round, he says. “This [summertime] is the time we celebrate it.”

Each summer, UNCG’s summer rep Theatre 232 brings more than two dozen UNCG students plus faculty members to Triad Stage.

He heard a conversation among a few UNCG student actors, not long ago. They were talking about themselves and their backgrounds in rural North Carolina. “All of us are just kinda rednecks, aren’t we?” one said.

That struck Lane. He shares that background, and knows where the student was coming from. He is from Boone. While his parents loved the symphony and chamber music, he loved his Aunt Shirley’s 1950s-70s country music collection, with Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn. “If I were to score my life, it would be taking classic country music.” Old-time stringband and bluegrass too, he adds. “I love that sound.”

He values being able to write plays for North Carolina actors, with language and music that, for many of them, connects to their home, their background.

“It’s something we understand.”

More information about “Providence Gap” including ticket information, the cast and crew and an opportunity to hear a few songs, is at http://www.triadstage.org/mainstage/providence/. Information about Theatre 232 is at http://www.uncg.edu/the/curriculum/232/.

Educator’s Discount: Current faculty members receive a 50 percent discount off Season Passes and a 20% discount percent regular price tickets to all Triad Stage MainStage performances. You must present a valid employee ID or proof of employment to Box Office when picking up tickets.

Visual: Preston Lane directing. Courtesy: Triad Stage