LUMBERTON — For a kid growing up in Robeson County who was always told why he couldn’t succeed, working with Jeanne Koonce of Purple Door Productions was what James Page calls a life-changing experience.
“I come from a family that aren’t theater people at all. They thought it was a waste of time,” Page said. “They said I couldn’t sing, couldn’t act and couldn’t dance and I believed them but [Koonce] showed me I could do so much more. It has made me really such a better person.”
Four years after meeting Koonce as part of the Studio One theater class she teaches for the Public Schools of Robeson County, Page, who is now an 18-year-old Communications major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has returned with the desire to help Koonce do for other young artists what she did for him.
Page is helping Koonce get the word out about her new theatre, Purple Door Productions, and its third annual production of “Gleeks Unite,” a pop rock jukebox musical production taking place at the A.D. Lewis Theatre auditorium on the campus of Robeson Community College. It will show on May 29 and May 30 7:30 each night, on May 31 at 2:30 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. and on June 1 and June 2 at 2:30 p.m. each day.
According to Page, “Gleeks Unite” showcases the talents of 30 local singers, dancers and actors who will be performing renditions of modern and classic pop music that has been featured on the popular FOX television show “Glee.”
Though the television show follows the lives of high school students, “Gleeks Unite” features performances from both teenage and adult performers with varying degrees of age and experience.
So far, Page says, the show has been a hit with local audiences, which has prompted Purple Doors Productions to move the show from its usual performance space at 209 N. Elm St., to the a larger performance space provided by Robeson Community College. Proceeds from this year’s production will be going to the Robeson Community College Foundation, which will use the money to provide scholarships to students.
“Audiences really enjoy the energy,” said Page, who is serving as the production’s public relations coordinator. “They don’t expect the quality that Purple Door provides, and they may go in expecting less because there are some high school students in the show, but we are so much more. These students aren’t here to get a grade, they are here because they love it. Everyone has drive and is energetic and I don’t think most people know this county has this kind of talent. We have people who just love to do theatre and that is what we bring to ‘Gleek’ every year.”
Koonce agrees, noting that she has witnessed former students return to working with the theater and involving their own children as well.
“The arts are important for everyone,” Koonce said. “Whether your interest is pursuing it professionally or just because you feel that it adds to your life … I know I am the artistic director, which means my job is to mount the show, but when I find that spark, I start pushing it. Some of them, some of [my students] have gone on into the business, working in New York and Los Angeles, in film, theatre, voice acting and television but a large part of the people who do this, they are going to do this as a hobby. A lot of people are not in jobs they love, they are in jobs they have folded into and when you have the arts, the arts are what makes our lives fulfilled. It gives them this wonderful creative outlet.”
For Page, Purple Door Productions has become a home away from home. Page said that this year he had only been back from college for two days before he found himself at his first “Gleeks Unite” rehearsal.
“I am still growing with the Purple Door. Being asked to help out on a more professional level, they really do think I am good enough to do this and that is something that I have always struggled with,” Page said. “[Koonce] has done that with a lot of kids. Just because you are from Robeson County or your family doesn’t believe in you, the Purple Door believes in you.”
James Johnson may be reached at 910-272-6144 or on Twitter @JJohnsonRobeson.