This article was published in High Country Press.

“All theatre people sit around saying, ‘Why don’t I start my own theatre company?’ so I did,” Burlene Franklin said.

Franklin, an Avery County resident, is the founder and artistic director of Collaborative Stage, a brand new High Country theatre company.The company will make its debut Sunday, November 7, with a dinner theatre production of The Spitfire Grill, a musical by James Valcq and Fred Alley. Other performances take place Monday, November 8; Friday, November 12; Saturday, November 13; and Sunday, November 14.

Performances will take place at Jackalope’s View on Beech Mountain with cocktails at 6:00 p.m. (not included in price), dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the show at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for The Spitfire Grill are $30, including dinner. Franklin advises making a reservation fast: more than 100 tickets have been reserved already, and Saturday’s show is nearly sold out.

Spitfire tells the story of a young woman making a fresh start, Franklin said. Upon being released from prison, she relocates to a town called Gilead after seeing a photo of its fall colors.

“She chooses to restart her life there,” Franklin said.

Gilead has fallen on hard economic times, however, and its down-on-their-luck residents have lost the affection they once had for their picturesque hometown.

Fortunately, the musical’s main character is able to restore a sense of wonder in Gilead, a message Franklin said will “speak volumes to all the towns in the High Country.”

“She brings life back,” Franklin said. “People realize how special their town is.”

Franklin, a musical theatre graduate from Lees-McRae who has worked in theatre since her childhood, has long hoped to start a more long-term theatre company in the High Country.

“I got tired of waiting for summer to roll around and there to be theatre again,” she said.

In early September, she made up her mind to start a theatre company that could meet that need and give professional actors an opportunity to work. The result was Collaborative Stage, a company whose first performance will feature seven professional and student actors from the High Country.

Since Collaborative Stage is a non-house theatre company, it’s likely that each show will be performed in a different venue.  Franklin hopes that constraint will offer opportunities for artistic growth.

“I want the artists to be able to really react to the space…kind of work together on whatever stage we’re given,” she said.

Franklin received powerful support for Collaborative Stage early on. The $1,170 needed to secure rights to the musical was raised in five days through PayPal links on social networking sites.

“It was really my theatre family reaching out,” Franklin said.

After Spitfire, Franklin hopes to plan a murder mystery dinner theatre for the holiday season. She imagines the show as a type of “Christmas carol whodunit,” she said.

The company also hopes to assist and promote the arts in local schools. They’re currently working with Banner Elk Elementary on a musical production for the holidays.

“Children who have the arts do better,” Franklin said. “For some students, it’s an outlet they can finally express themselves in. Especially those kids who feel like they’re on the outskirts…it gives them something they can be proud of.”

To purchase tickets, call 828-260-2930 or 828-898-9004. For more info on the company, click to www.collaborativestage.com.

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