Life in Our Foothills January 2022 – Mountain Page Theater

Published 10:03 am Monday, January 10, 2022

Mountain Page Theater – Local Stage and Creative Haven

Story and Photographs By Erin Boggs

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of our modern life, one of the best ways to refocus is through creative pursuits. What better place to retreat than a little cabin in the woods of Saluda, N.C. known as Mountain Page Theater? 

Whether a performer in the Theater’s YAK Group (Young Acting Krew) or an audience member, you will feel a marked change in your mood as soon as you pull into your parking space. Handmade glass and metal sculptures surround the building, evoking childhood memories of characters from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland all at once. The sculptures, a whimsical, fantastical mix of animals, plants and everyday objects, were created and donated to the Theater by local artist Susan Cannon.  At first sight you know you are about to enter a very special and creative place.

In fact, the entirety of the Theater is a donation. Everything from the building to the paint and décor, the sound system, fireplace, lighting and stage, and even the snacks for the YAK crew and after school program held weekly, are all provided by Saluda community members. Warm colors and sights surround you as soon as you enter. A cozy hearth and kitchen welcoming actors and visitors alike immediately set one at ease.

The Mountain Page Community is the oldest settlement in Henderson County, where the headwaters of the Pacolet River flow into our foothills of South Carolina. The building was donated to the cause in 2018 by the Theater’s very first patron Hilda Pace, and after extensive renovations by community members and professionals, Mountain Page Theater was established in 2020. Originally the building and land belonged to Hilda’s family and was the long-closed site of Mountain Page Community Center. The 13 actors who formed the original group in 2016, after Executive Director Corinne Gerwe posted a notice at the Post Office about starting up a theater troupe, rehearsed at several local venues before finding their permanent home in Mountain Page. Funded by profits made from plays and the YAK Concession Stand, along with donations of supplies and professional services, the work to breathe new life into the building began. 

Executive Director Corinne Gerwe, an internationally known neuropsychologist, researcher, professor and author, designed the theater to be a haven for children in the community, where they can develop their creative talents in a safe, warm and inclusive environment. Her life’s work has focused on understanding how the experiences of childhood impact a person’s entire life. 

As a neuropsychologist, she has worked around the world with high-risk behavior individuals and addiction treatment. Corinne says, “During the course of my work, I came to one startling revelation, that when I would investigate the life histories of most of my patients, it just seemed to me that this was where, during their childhood developmental period, their most damaging behavior stemmed from. It could have been averted if these children had been able to talk about what they experienced, or told someone, or at least had another outlet other than the dysfunction that they were caught in, or the abusive situation they were caught in, or whatever damage was done.”

 

After realizing that only writing about it, or working in hospitals where funding was not available, or teaching about it at universities was not a sufficient way to effect the most change, Corinne decided the best way to combat this systemic dysfunction was to work directly with children in a positive and nurturing environment. Practicing many years as a clinician, writer and teacher, Corinne didn’t realize at first that the theater would be the next iteration of her career. But when the original 13 young actors showed up, she says “When I looked at those kids, I thought this is what I’m supposed to do. This is it!” 

Corinne says “I have come full-circle in fulfilling an early childhood desire to live an artistic life,” and as a writer “I wanted to develop intriguing characters and stories based on what I had learned about human behavior and its extraordinary variations and motivations. I’ve always been interested in theater and I’m a big fan of anything in the arts. I always thought that’s what I should have done, but I was led in that other direction.” Now after living for over thirty years in Saluda, Corinne is able to realize her true gifts and brings her invaluable experience to help children and families in the community through the Theater.

Besides directing the YAK Group, Corinne also hosts an after-school program at the Theater on Thursdays for children K-5. She hopes to expand the program to Saturdays as well, with the parents also participating on that day.

 

The YAK troupe performed a musical play for Christmas, Scrooge, which included members of the Theater’s adult player group. The performances on December 17th and 18th, were from an adaptation of the play by Corinne from Charles Dicken’s original, and she added songs from various Scrooge musicals that have been done through the years, as well as a song that has never been done in any performance of Scrooge.  

Formerly from Los Angeles and now a Saluda resident, television, movie and stage actor Gerard Prendergast brought all his experience with children’s theater and donates his time and expertise to the group. Now the Theater’s Director, Gerard played Scrooge in the December performances. A big fan of classic radio, Gerard also provided the idea for the troupe’s performance earlier this year of an on-stage old time radio show featuring Westerns Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger, with the stage set up like the studios from the Golden Age of Radio, complete with vintage microphones and sound effects. The next radio shows will begin this month and will include suspenseful Sherlock Holmes, then comedy by George Burns and Gracie Allen.

 

Richard Rutherford, also formerly from L.A. and now a Saluda resident, lives within walking distance of the theater and created the state of the art stage, donated the sound system, and handles all the sound and lighting for the Theater. Local electrician Chad Blotner has given many of his weekends to install all the electrical work.  Singer and Songwriter Dan Foster from Atlanta also supports the troupe, writing original songs about the Saluda area.

 

On November 12th and 13th, the Theater hosted Dacre C. Stoker for the event “Stoker on Stoker, the Mysteries Behind the Writing of Dracula.” Mr. Stoker is an author and the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. The performance featured dramatic readings by Gerard Prendergast and Susan Theodosia Parke, and details all the behind the scenes research and never published text and photographs, a true delight for Dracula fans and scholars around the world.

 

If you are interested in tickets for any of the upcoming performances mentioned here, learning more about the Theater, or becoming a volunteer or actor in the troupe, you may contact the Mountain Page Theater at: https://mountainpage.theater https://m.facebook.com/groups/792646134782145/

Phone: 828-749-4803

Address: 1303 Mountain Page Rd, Saluda N.C. 28773 

For further reading about Corinne Gerwe and her written and professional work, you may visit her website at: https://corinnefgerwe.com