FAIRMONT — For the past two years Vanessa Abernathy has been setting the stage to introduce Fairmont to more arts, music, and culture and to leave her footprint on the town’s economic development.
Abernathy is starring as her own version of a one-woman show as the executive director of The Stage — Fairmont Art and Cultural, a 60-seat theater in downtown Fairmont, of which she runs every aspect.
“This is what I do. I manage this facility wholly,” Abernathy said.
The 64-year-old Abernathy is a novice to theater. She has no formal training or experience, but her passion for the arts and growing up in a culturally diverse community drives her to bring that culture to Robeson County. She sees nothing but the potential for economic and cultural growth in the former tobacco town of Fairmont.
Four years ago her father came up with an idea to put the theater in Fairmont. He then recruited Abernathy to run the business two years later.
Abernathy was raised in Prince George’s County, Md., and later moved to Philadelphia. She moved to Robeson County in May 2013 and has since become an integral part of the local art community, volunteering for the Robeson County History Museum, sitting on the Fairmont Economical Development Committee and doing volunteer work for people seeking insurance through the Affordable Health Care Act. Working in all of these positions has enabled Abernathy to network and meet people who may be able to assist The Stage.
“I’ve met a lot of people in Robeson County that are into arts, culture and that’s been of assistance to me,” Abernathy said. “It is a challenge. I have joined several organizations in order to prepare for this challenge and to get support.”
While most would see the town as rural farm country, Abernathy sees cultural and artistic potential.
“In terms of logistics, it’s set in an ideal location. Arts and culture are here already. We’re just taking it to the next level,” Abernathy said.
Jeanne Koonce, the artistic director for Purple Door Productions, agrees that the theater is in an ideal location for Fairmont residents.
“Because it’s such a large county, people feel the distance is too great for shows,” Koonce said. “There’s a lot of talented people in that area.”
Abernathy said one of the biggest challenges is getting enough volunteers for the theater to run the events and making sure the theater stays booked with business.
“We’re slowly growing the business,” she said.
By partnering with Purple Door Production, the stage offers short previews of Purple Door plays, which serves as teasers to the larger productions.
“It helps to develop a curiosity and an interest to see the larger plays,” she said.
In 2016, The Stage was the site of a preview for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” a modern take on a biblical figure. The show didn’t have the stage props but it did have the actors and featured the show’s music.
After the preview, almost everyone in the crowd came out to see the full play production at Robeson Community College, Koonce said.
“Hopefully what will happen as we grow art and culture in Robeson County is other small towns will develop that same kind of partnership with the larger theatrical ensembles in the county,” Abernathy said.
“I kind of call it the great experiment,” she said. “They’ll learn more about the town. They may come back for more opportunities here.”
Abernathy hopes to turn The Stage into a Fairmont theater company and give young people or up-and-comers a chance to start gain some experience and hone their skills right, whether it’s singing, dancing, theatrical productions, spoken word or readings, in their own neighborhood.
“The kids here and the adults and the seniors should be able to practice and experience,” Abernathy said. “We’re like a stepping stone. We’re the baby step.”
As part of that, Abernathy plans to have workshops at The Stage.
The Stage and Purple Door Productions will be presenting “Tea with Belle,” a preview performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” on Nov. 18. Tickets can be bought online at www.fairmontarts.com or by calling the box office at 910-535-8088.