Members discover a wealth of performing arts opportunities tucked into the mountains of Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina
You might think that moving to the mountains from big metropolitan areas across the U.S. would be a tough act to follow in terms of access to performing arts. Yet many members at The Cliffs who were fans of the high-quality productions in their former cities are surprised to find that Upstate South Carolina and Western North Carolina steal the show when it comes to music and theatre.
“For us, [access to the arts] was a very important part of our decision to come to The Cliffs,” says Bob DiBella, who moved to The Cliffs at Keowee Falls in 2009 from Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania, with his wife, Carol Savage. “We just love music. We had season tickets to the Civic Light Opera’s Broadway series in Pittsburgh. So, when we came down here, our biggest fear was ‘what’s going to be in Western North Carolina and the Greenville area from an arts perspective?’ And we found that there’s a hell of a lot more than we ever expected.”
Shortly after the couple moved to The Cliffs, they purchased season tickets to the Peace Center in Greenville, followed by Centre Stage, Greenville Theatre, and Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina, where Bob now serves on the board. “The traveling Broadway shows at the Peace Center are first class,” says Carol. “We also attend a lot of the singer/songwriter sessions, like Maya Sharp and Edwin McCain at Genevieve’s,” Bob adds. Both appreciate the Peace Center’s variety of offerings, which include Broadway musicals, dance, and the Greenville Symphony Orchestra.
The DiBellas, now major donors to the Peace Center, enjoy the Greenville arts scene so much that they purchased a condo downtown, so they don’t have to drive home after a show. In fact, their season tickets to Flat Rock Playhouse are for Thursday matinees, which leaves them free to do “double-headers,” adding an evening performance at the Peace Center.
MUSIC TO THEIR EARS
Music lover Chip Boyle discovered the Tryon Concert Association (TCA) after he first moved to The Cliffs at Glassy from Detroit , Michigan, in 2011. Committed to enriching the Tryon community by bringing a world-class series of concerts to the area, TCA stages four concerts a year at the 315-seat Tryon Fine Arts Center. “I was absolutely amazed to discover that the performers I had seen live in Detroit and Chicago were performing in Tryon, in a beautiful and acoustically sound facility,” shares Boyle, who was recently elected secretary of the TCA board.
The London Chamber Orchestra, the Dresden Symphony, German cellist Johannes Moser, and Canadian virtuoso pianist Marc-André Hamelin are just a handful of the hundreds of talented musicians that TCA has brought to Tryon. “And these brilliant performers are 20 minutes from my doorstep at a fraction of the metropolitan area ticket cost,” adds Boyle, noting that the cost of a season subscription to TCA is a steal at $150. “In the Southeastern U.S., I’d put Tryon up against anybody.”
Another Glassy member, Terry Batchler-Smith has served on TCA’s board for three years and is heading into his second term. He points out that what the Fine Arts Center may lack in size, it makes up for in intimacy. “TCA focuses on chamber music and small groups that bring a sense of intimacy to the classical works performed on its stage. The performers can engage with the audience in a way you don’t find at larger venues. It’s such a different experience.”
THE LITTLE PLAYHOUSE THAT COULD
In 1937, a group of struggling performers, led by English-born actor-director Robroy Farquhar, organized themselves as the Vagabond Players. Eventually, the troupe found their way to the village of Flat Rock, where they established a permanent home in 1952. Today, the Flat Rock Playhouse is The State Theatre of North Carolina, hosting a nine-month season including
Broadway musicals, comedy, drama, and Music on the Rock® concerts.
Even so, Joe Ippolito was skeptical when he went to see his first show at Flat Rock Playhouse, at the urging of his wife, Hilda. Before they relocated to The Cliffs Valley from New Jersey in 2006, the couple frequented Broadway and opera productions in New York City. “But after seeing “A Tuna Christmas” at Flat Rock Playhouse, I figured my Broadway problem was solved,” Joe says. He was so impressed with the quality of the performance that he purchased season tickets.
Eventually, the Ippolitos became donors to the Flat Rock Playhouse, where Joe served as both vice president, and later, president of the board. “We are a producing professional, high-quality theatre, and that’s the part that has my heart,” says the retired labor and employment lawyer, who minored in drama in college. “It’s as close to Broadway as you can get.”
An Actors’ Equity theatre, the playhouse brings in talent from all over the country, many of whom have performed on Broadway. After playing the part of Officer Krupke in Flat Rock’s production of “West Side Story” last year, Joe has a new appreciation for the work that goes on behind the scenes in the rustic theatre. “You look at [the playhouse] and say ‘what the heck is gonna happen in there? And then you walk in and magic happens.”
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
Here’s a sample of the performing arts offerings that are easily accessible from The Cliffs communities.
Asheville Community Theatre – Founded in 1946, ACT proudly embraces its middle name ‘Community,’ serving as a vibrant cornerstone of Asheville’s cultural scene, by providing entertainment, enrichment, and education through the practices and celebration of the theatre arts. 35 E. Walnut Street, Asheville, NC. 828.254.1320, ashevilletheatre.org
Asheville Symphony Orchestra – Formed in 1960 by a group of volunteer musicians, the ASO performs in the 2,300-seat Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville. 87 Haywood Street, Asheville, NC. 828.259.5736, ashevillesymphony.org
Brevard Music Center – Don’t miss the center’s acclaimed Summer Festival, which brings in world-class soloists such as Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Joshua Bell. 349 Andante Lane,
Brevard, NC. 828.862.2100, brevardmusic.org
Brooks Center for the Performing Arts – The 87,000-square-foot facility is the hub of performing arts at Clemson University, hosting world-class music, theatre, and dance in its 979-seat proscenium auditorium. 141 Jersey Lane, Clemson, SC. 864.656.7787, clemson.edu/centers-institutes/brooks
Centre Stage – This professional theatre presents a year-round slate of diverse programming, in addition to its annual New Play Festival, which focuses on South Carolina-affiliated playwrights. 501 River Street, Greenville, SC. 864.233.6733, centrestage.org
Flat Rock Playhouse – An Actors Equity theatre, the 468-seat venue is known for its excellent performances, which bring in first-rate actors from across the county. 52 Thomas Wolfe Drive, Flat Rock, NC. 828.693.0731, flatrockplayhouse.org
Greenville Symphony Orchestra – Celebrating its 75th year, the GSO performs on the Peace Center stage. 300 S. Main Street,
Greenville, SC. 864.467.3000, greenvillesymphony.org
Greenville Theatre – Musicals, mysteries, comedies, and dramas take the stage at the Upstate’s oldest and largest producing professional theatre. 444 College Street, Greenville, SC. 864.233.6238, greenvilletheatre.org
Peace Center – Completed in 1990 and incorporating several historic buildings, Greenville’s premier performing arts center stages everything from Broadway hits to ballet. 300 S. Main Street, Greenville, SC. 864.467.3000, peacecenter.org
Tryon Concert Association – Now in its 69th season, TCA holds four concerts a year—plus several non-subscription performances—at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. 34 Melrose Avenue, Tryon, NC. 828.859.8322, tryonconcerts.org
Walhalla Performing Arts Center – Housed in a historic former school building (1903), WPAC hosts concerts, tribute bands, and comedians among its many shows. 101 E. North Broad Street, Walhalla, SC. 864.638.5277, walhallapac.com
This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To see more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.