There is more than a little bit of chatter on local Asheville websites and social media pages these days – like anywhere that is growing and has tourism as a major industry, Asheville is trying to figure out what this town looks like with so many new faces on the streets.
One thing that I think will help us all move into the future together, though, is the way that this community has committed to each other, particularly to each other’s arts and crafts, over the years. If the new folks can get on board (me included!) and do our part, I can see us succeeding as a city for many decades to come.
A great example of Asheville making itself special by taking care of its neighbors is the Montford Park Players. This is an incredible achievement: for 50 years, this organization has been providing high-quality Shakespeare shows in Asheville (the longest-running theater company of its kind in NC!) and making the show free of charge.
This is the kind of work that cannot continue if everyone shows up for free and refuses to chip in: by definition, this group works because the team behind the scenes is willing to do exceptional work on the budget they have available, and in turn the audiences are numerous and are willing to chip in when they pass the hat (having a few major patrons of the arts doesn’t hurt either!).
This is unparalleled cooperation and accessibility to the theater arts, and I really love the testament that this 50-year legacy says to the people who live here: sure, there are theater buffs who will attend every show, but enough folks are coming to shows and pitching in that the whole ship has sailed for five decades.
I love seeing the interpretations of the Shakespearean classics as well as other plays when the season launches at Montford Park’s Hazel Robinson Amphitheater. My first time, I assumed that it’d be a popular event, but I had no idea how far away I’d have to go to find parking, because so many people come early to enjoy a summer evening picnic before the show.
Make sure that your first priority for these shows is to arrive early, since you’ll be parking a good hike away (there’s lots of nearby street parking, but arriving early gets you a better spot!). It’s rarely a bad investment – get all your chatting out before the show starts!
We always sit back behind the seating area on a grassy slope. Prepare for it to be a pretty steep grade, and the farther back you sit, the harder it is to hear, even with great projecting actors and actresses.
While I’m sure there are ways to amplify voices in this amphitheater, both of the shows I’ve seen were un-microphoned, as far as I could tell, and we got unlucky on our recent visit because there was both a lawnmower nearby and a frequently-passing-overhead helicopter. We still enjoyed the experience but had to mentally fill in a few line gaps, so sitting closer is a wise call if you’ve got any kind of hearing struggles or if you want a crystal-clear picture of the dialogue.
At the entrance to the amphitheater, you’ll find concessions of various kinds, including a bar and snack options, as well as a restroom. I recommend going to the restrooms right before the show starts, if you can, since the intermission lines can get long quite quickly and you might prefer to spend intermission chatting with friends rather than waiting in line.
When we forgot a corkscrew, the wine concessions gentleman let us use his corkscrew for free and laughed off the idea of needing to buy something from him to use it; this is mostly to let you know that these vendors are affable and lovely, but also to encourage you to buy treats from them and support their businesses, since they are nice folks.
From the start of both of the shows I’ve seen here, I’m constantly reminded in the back of my mind, “these are volunteers who just love acting, singing, and creating a show this much?” because it all feels quite professional grade to me. From projecting their voices enough for hundreds of people to hear them enunciate to memorizing choreography and singing their hearts out, these actors and actresses are clearly passionate and talented.
It made me want to, someday, audition or join the crew in some way, since seeing people working this hard on a project for the sheer love of it is so inspiring. That being said, auditions are held frequently for what seems like four to seven shows a year, so if you want to participate, it isn’t out of the question – keep an eye on their website and social media to get an idea of the timing for auditions and for their calls for additional volunteers and workers on a given production.
While my understanding is that all performances are free, a big reason why these performances can stay free is that they do take up a collection to keep a budget for upkeep, ongoing costs, and other needs so that they can keep delivering great community theater. Either put a donation on their website or drop a few dollars into the hat or basket at intermission: usually, it’s a group of the actors that roam around and ask for donations, so try to find them.
One of the loveliest things about watching a show here in the summer or early autumn is watching the start of the show in daylight and finishing it up under cover of night. I don’t always focus in perfectly in the second half, but the experience of holding a condensation-covered plastic glass of wine while seeing the stars slowly peek out above the elaborate stage sets and forest backdrop is just… well, it’s now one of the most quintessentially Asheville experiences to me. Even more so because it is available to all!
My guidebook for what to bring to a Montford Players event depends on what you’ve got. I’d recommend your easiest-to-carry ground-sitting supplies. Some folks have those padded flip-out chairs that people use in stadiums with bench seating, and we’ve done well with just a big quilt or blanket on the grassy areas.
I’ve never gotten unlucky with the rain there, but because they have a policy of continuing the play if there’s a brief sprinkle and just taking a little break if there’s a fast-moving storm, you might do well to throw some ponchos or a towel or two in if the weather forecast is looking iffy. There’s not a lot of shelter and most parking spots are a bit of a hike from the amphitheater.
Above all, though, I recommend your most sumptuous picnic and, if you partake, a bottle of wine or some beer. Few venues let you bring your own food and drink in, and there’s something incredibly classy about getting to keep the cost as low as any grocery-store-bought picnic while also getting to nosh on something nice. My companions for the last two shows brought cheese and fruit and crackers, and we made a very good “grown-up Lunchables” of the whole experience.
As for care products, I haven’t needed mosquito repellant or sunscreen, given the time of day I’ve been there, but those probably wouldn’t hurt if you typically use them. Otherwise, just bring yourself, and enjoy the fun of an evening out under the stars.
While the shows that I watched were perfectly acceptable for children, I don’t know that a three-hour show is fully “child-friendly,” more because my own kiddo chafes at sitting still for five minutes at his current age.
I’d expect that if you choose a show that is specifically geared toward children and sit close to the front, you’ll have a better time keeping children engaged, especially if the show isn’t traditional Shakespeare and is thus a little easier for little minds to understand.
That being said, I’ve also sat closer to the back where little kids can move around and participate in the low hum of whispers and giggles in the audience, so if theater is important to your family, bringing a little one might work great, especially if the smallest ones can nod off and get some outdoor rest time for part of the show, which can go until 10 or 10:30 pm.
Here are a few more key pieces of info for those who want to be “in the know” before they attend a show. If you want a reserved seat at the amphitheater, there are reservable $7 Adirondack chair seats set in a particularly prime location, which can be reserved online or through a call to the box office.
There are no weapons, tents (even for rain), or flash cameras, and no smoking is allowed in the seating area. That being said, well-behaved pets are welcome. There’s a lost and found for missing items, and the concession stand is a good place to visit if you need first aid or experience an emergency.
All in all, what you’ll find when you come to the Montford Park Players is beyond entertainment – it’s a nice reminder that some of the most meaningful experiences in life involve doing challenging projects with the people in your community in order to achieve something beautiful.
Watching these shows makes me harken back to eras when people would watch plays and share art in various ways despite regular life being a constant source of struggle: art is a key part of life, and so it is no wonder that it’s also a key part of Asheville.
The Montford Park Players (Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre): 92 Gay St, Asheville.
Have you seen the Montford Park Players perform? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
#Montford #Park #Players #Review #Legacy #Community #Art, 1696732072