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Cherry Orchard Theatre, museum combine forces

Every summer, during the peach-picking season, folks make the mountain trek to Cherry Orchard Theatre in Ararat, Virginia, where outdoor shows — often original productions written by local artists — are produced on a simple stage, with the hollows and ridges stretching toward the North Carolina Piedmont serving as a backdrop

Twenty-five years ago, the first show took to the stage there, a drama written by Frank Levering about his ancestors who settled the area and started Levering Orchard, just a few years after the calendar flipped from the 19th to the 20th century.

While the outdoor theater there has attracted audiences and actors from all over — including a few California stage performers — and has traveled to other cities, setting up shop and adapting its products to various indoor venues, the theater is doing something this year it has never done before: Putting on three shows in downtown Mount Airy.

The three productions: “Kalamazoo,” “Does A Dress Have A Life?” and “Flights of Imagination,” will each have a one-night engagement at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History over the next three months. “Kalamazoo” will be on Feb. 25, “Does A Dress Have A Life?” will be March 25, while “Flights of Imagination” is set for April 22.

Levering said the first leanings toward putting on the shows in Mount Airy largely came about because of Terri Ingalls, Mark Brown, and Matt Edwards. Both Ingalls and Brown are known locally as actors and story tellers, with each of them a seasoned Cherry Orchard Theatre performer as well as volunteers at the museum, while Edwards is executive director at the museum.

“The three of them have been thinking about starting to do theater at the museum for a few years,” Levering said. “We all saw this as a good way to get started doing that. It seemed like a really good fit for the museum and for Cherry Orchard Theatre.”

Cassandra Johnson, director of STEAM education and programming at the museum, said those talks picked up steam in the autumn.

“It’s their off-season,” she said of the timing of the plays, and the idea that the partnership could be beneficial to both organizations. “We thought maybe there are people who go there, but have never come to the museum, who might come to this, and there are probably people who have come to the museum but have not gone there.”

This might expose folks from both camps to what both the theater and the museum have to offer patrons.

Johnson said the shows will be set up in the third floor program space of the museum, which can seat about 75 people. She said as soon as the museum announced the shows, tickets started selling, although there are still seats available for all three productions.

“This is going to be great,” Levering said of the shows and the museum’s partnership. While there haven’t been any formal discussions about doing additional shows after this three-performance schedule, the museum’s Johnson said her organization is hoping to use this as a springboard toward offering similar productions.

Levering said all three shows have already been performed in the outdoor setting at Cherry Orchard, so the actors will be bringing a sense of familiarity to the indoor stage at the museum.

The first show, “Kalamazoo,” stars Ingalls and Brown in what he described as a romantic comedy.

“The play is about two older people in their 70s who meet online, they start seeing each other, the play follows the course of their romance. It’s a comedy, it’s a very funny play,” he said.

The second show, “Does A Dress Have A Life?” is a one-person production with Melissa Hiatt, who Levering called one of the most talented performers in the region. “It’s a very personal story about growing up and having a difficult childhood, some really harsh things she had to face in growing up,” he said of the piece, which Hiatt wrote.

The third show, “Flights of Imagination,” is a one-person show written and performed by Ingalls.

“It’s about Terri Ingalls telling about her years as a flight attendant of Piedmont Airlines (in the 1960s),” he said. “It is just delightful. It’s another comedy, a lot of comedy in it, and you also learn a lot about the experience of being a flight attendant.”

Each of the shows will be performed at 8 p.m. on their respective play dates. Tickets are $15, with popcorn and a drink available for an additional $5. The shows may not be suitable for all audiences, with adult content and themes part of the first two productions.

To reserve tickets, call 336-786-4478 or visit



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