by Vicky Morrison - Danville Register and Bee
The fifth season of The Prizery of South Boston’s Summer Theatre will present two blockbuster hits: “Hairspray” and “Les Miserables.”
Prizery artistic director Christopher Jones is the director and set and light designer for this season. Jones said that more than 800 kids auditioned in Mobile, Alabama, to be a part of the Summer Theatre program. An audition was held for the South Boston to find local talent, too.
Sixty participants are involved in both productions. Thirty of them are from South Boston, Danville and Clarksville. Others came from many states, including Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and New York.
Jones and musical director April Hill chose the actors. Multiple young professionals from colleges were hired to contribute their theatre skills to the productions. Colleges represented include East Carolina University, Longwood College, University of Kentucky, Moorehead State University, Averett University, Radford University, Belmont, Berry College and Elon University.
Approximately a dozen local families host the college students. Many of the students are hired as painters, lighting crew, costumers or singers and dancers. “One of the things that I’m most excited about,” Jones explained, “is seeing young children have the opportunity to be mentored by young professionals.” Jones identifies the program as a positive educational arts experience for all skill levels from novice to standing at the cusp of entering the competitive commercial arts world.
When entering The Prizery, the building still has the look and feel of an aging tobacco warehouse with some of the crop's history — and the role it played in Halifax County — lining the walls with pictures, dates and information.
However, by just turning one corner of the hallway, guests are taken somewhere else entirely.
"You walk around the corner and you say 'Oh my gosh' and there is the theater space," said Chris Jones, The Prizery's artistic director. "People aren't expecting to see that. That is the wow factor."
The 250-seat Chastain Theatre is just part of the 38,000-square-foot building that is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places as part of the South Boston Historic Tobacco Warehouse District. The Prizery, which once served as a tobacco warehouse, is now a lively center for the arts attracting thousands of visitors from outside the area each year.
It is believed that the building was constructed in the late 1800s by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. and it was of similar structure that it is today. The basement was used for manufacturing the 1,000 pound tobacco barrels where the tobacco was "prized" — pressed layer by layer into the hogshead barrels. The first floor was used for storage and the second floor was for pickups and drop offs and the top floor was for drying the tobacco.
Before an almost standing-room-only crowd, 17-year-old harpist Katherine Elizabeth Campbell of Danville’s George Washington High School and Caleb Anthony Flowers, a 15-year-old home-schooled countertenor from Clover, each took home $300 after winning the South Boston Lions Club’s Annual James Bland Memorial Music Contest Friday night at The Prizery
Runners-up were pianist Asher Brandon Caplan, 15, also of George Washington High School, and baritone Thomas Paul Freeman. Freeman, home-schooled, is 18 and from Alton.
This was Flowers’ third win in as many years, previously singing as a soprano. Flowers sang “Caro Mio Ben” by Giuseppe Giordani, and Campbell played Handel’s “Concerto in B flat major.”
Freeman sang Mozart’s “Vogelfänger bin ich ja.
Caplan played “Prelude in C sharp minor” by Rachmaninoff.
Flowers is a student of Dr. Christopher Swanson. Campbell is taught by Laura Byrne, Freeman by Samuel Howell and Caplan by Dianne Collie.
Somewhere around 250 music lovers witnessed the contest. Each paid an admission fee of one pair of used eyeglasses.
Harp, cellos, piano, violins, violas, vocalists, Oh my! Twenty-six young musicians will grace the stage of the Chastain Theater at The Prizery at 7 pm Friday. This is the largest card for a Bland Contest in memory. The sponsoring South Boston Lions Club feels they have the best Bland Contest in the state. Beginning last year, students play, or are accompanied by, The Prizery's new 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano.
One Vocal and one Instrumental winner, rendering classical compositions, will each win $300 cash. This is probably the largest Club award in the state. They will then be eligible to compete on the District level for $100 U.S. Savings Bonds for winners and $50 U.S. Savings Bonds for runners-up. District winners will compete at the Lions Club State Convention in Bristol next May. State winners win a $2,500 scholarship. First and second runners-up receive $2,000 and $1,500 scholarships, respectively. Fourth, fifth, and sixth place receive $1,000 cash.
Lions Clubs in Virginia began James A. Bland Memorial Music Scholarship Contests in 1948. James Alan Bland was an African-American musician and composer. He was the most successful entertainer of his time in North America, extremely wealthy.