LUMBERTON — Alexis Locklear has grown accustomed to the stage. She was the first runner-up in the American Miss Junior Teen Pageant in 2008 and has participated in multiple Lumbee pageants.
She said she couldn’t have done it without the help of Jeanne Koonce.
“She was my vocal coach, but she provides you with a lot more than that. She pushes you … . She produces winners every time,” Locklear said.
In addition to vocal coaching, Koonce directs the local acting group, Studio One. She has recently opened a theater for adult actors called Purple Door Productions, which will debut its first summer concert in “Gleeks Unite! The Concert” at 215 N. Elm St. It will show on Friday at 7 p.m., on Saturday at 2:30 and 7 p.m. and on June 3 at 2:30 p.m.
“There will be Broadway, pop and country — everything from intimate ballads to the driving stuff,” Koonce said. “We chose the material to represent a wide spectrum of what is interesting.”
Working with Purple Door Productions is a new act for Koonce, who has worked mostly with children in Studio One throughout her directing career.
“Studio One’s main focus is teaching — that’s its primary reason for existence. It uses the shows as a form of teaching and it focuses on musicals and straight shows,” she said.
“The function of Purple Door is to provide a broad spectrum of audience entertainment for the county … . In an area like this, people don’t have as much opportunity to perform. There is so much talent, but they don’t always have the place to express it.”
Beginning Friday, cast members of “Gleeks Unite! The Concert” will express themselves to hits by music icons like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin.
Koonce, who studied Opera at the University of Southwestern Louisiana and has done stand-up comedy, musical theater and performed with bands, said the production — like every stage production — is a collective effort.
“The person out front is really not holding together that show. Everybody is important, so there are a lot of valuable lessons on stage,” she said.
Although she understands the importance of a group effort, Koonce is renowned among her students for finding their specific talent and pushing them to their fullest potential.
Rebekah Revels Lowry began working with Koonce at the ripe age of 9. She went on to become Miss North Carolina. Koonce has also worked with Adam Stedman, an aspiring actor from St. Pauls who is making inroads in Hollywood.
“She impacted my life in so many ways,” Lowry said. “My love for the stage, I attribute to her. Jeanne really kind of sparked a huge interest in drama for me. I attribute a lot of my success in Miss North Carolina to her. A lot of people I’ve worked with who have worked with her are in New York performing or in performing arts schools. I guarantee the majority will say that she had such a huge influence.”
In fact, Stedman, who is living in New York, sang a similar tune.
“She is … inspirational,” Stedman said. “She would just give me so much confidence and so much wisdom on my craft.”
Stedman said working with Koonce was an honor and a blessing.
“It’s kind of the same thing that Michael Phelps’ coach did,” Koonce said of her ability to spot talent. “He saw him at age 12 and he walked over to his mother and said, ‘you give me him, and he’s serious, and I’ll make an Olympic champion out of him.’ When you’re inside the business of what you do, you recognize what you’re looking for when you see it.”
Audiences will recognize what they see at “Gleeks Unite! The Concert,” which features material from the last three seasons of television’s “Glee,” a six-time Emmy Award winning song and dance comedy-drama. But the members of Purple Door Productions bring a dedication and enthusiasm that reflects all they’ve learned.
“On stage, people learn to believe in themselves more than anything else because you put your feet out on stage and you recognize that you’re going out there to be judged,” Koonce said. “If you’re afraid, there’s nowhere to hide. Standing on a stage is learning to withstand the pain and turmoil of driving past insecurities and believing in yourself.”
Koonce pauses to choose her next words carefully.
“It’s the most important thing any young person can do,” she said. “Confidence is what gets you on stage, it’s what get’s you the job.”