LUMBERTON — Richard Sceiford looks out from his second story window at the Carolina Civic Center Historic Theater in downtown Lumberton and laments the empty streets. It’s after 5 p.m. and the streetlights signal no one. Apart from a muffled hum of music exuding from the theater’s sound system, downtown Lumberton is one tumble weed short of a ghost town.
“The greatest challenge,” says Kendrix Singletary, the center’s first artist in residence, “is getting people to know that we’re here and that we’re doing this.”
“This,” at the moment, refers to the encore presentation of “5 Guys Singing,” a musical revue that Singletary created himself featuring Motown, Broadway, country and gospel hits punctuated by dance and visual effects. Singletary and Sceiford got together and bounced ideas off of each other until inspiration ensued and Singletary was offered a year-long contract to be the artist in residence at the Civic Center. “5 Guys Singing” begins the residency, which seeks to tap into overflow Lumberton talent, and add other musicals to the year’s repetoire.
But for now, Singletary is learning what it means to have his fingers in many pots. He’s learning what Sceiford, who serves as the executive director of the Carolina Civic Center Foundation, learned long ago — that necessity breeds creativity.
“There are no problems,” said Singletary, “only solutions. If you have an issue, immediately I think — OK how can I fix it? So, in a sense, the whole thing is challenging. You’re building a show out of nothing.”
It was “nothing” that inspired the show in the first place. Sitting back in the sun-flooded office, Singletary expresses frustration as he describes encounters with people who said they had no creative outlet.
“I always have people say to me ‘oh man, I wish I could do what you do. I live in a small town and there aren’t many opportunities.’ So I wanted to create that opportunity.”
Singletary was born and raised in Robeson County and attended Lumberton High School before transferring to a program at the North Carolina School of the Arts. As an actor, dancer and singer, he has performed in the national tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” starring Ted Neely from the original motion picture and “The South’s Grandest Christmas Show” at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach, S.C. But it was a local talent show that first gave Singletary the idea to create “5 Guys Singing.”
“… I saw a guy named Jason Bullock,” Singletary said. “He was hosting a talent show in St. Pauls and while the judges were deliberating, he sang ‘My Girl’ and I thought you know what, this dude needs to be performing. That’s what kind of sparked the idea of ‘5 Guys Singing.’”
Bullock, who is an agriculture teacher at St. Pauls High School, sits in the dim theater and says that while the production for him is cathartic, what’s truly unique about the show is its setting.
“I like that we’re being able to use this wonderful venue here to showcase this. Hopefully this is the beginning of many, many more shows to get the arts and theater and culture back here to Lumberton and Robeson County because there is a lot of untapped talent here that we need to start utilizing.”
Sceiford calls it “raising expectations.” He said he wants to add in more of the theater’s own productions so that people can experience a consistency of quality.
“We’re trying to add more flesh to the bone, more depth and broadness,” he said.
And Singletary has another reason for wanting the endeavor to succeed.
“I started right here in this building. I’ve come full circle. I started in sixth grade with Robeson Little Theater. In the late 80s and 90s, community theater was just thriving here. This was like the hub, all kinds of little theater groups would come here and perform. Now, it’s dead.”
Singletary hopes to be the catalyst of change.
“I think people are taking an interest now,” he said. “Somebody has to say let’s start it back, lets take a leap of faith and get it going again.”