Between two cow pastures on winding Mountain Page Road is not where most people would expect to find Saluda’s first community theater. But a green, flowery plot of Pace family land is the place that The Mountain Page Players — and youth theater the Young Acting Krew (YAK) — now call home.
The performers can thank Hilda Pace for donating her late mother’s former community center (which had been vacant for over a decade) to turn into a warm, inviting theater that seats 70.
And there’s another person central to this drama who’s played a leading role since the story’s opening act: Corinne F. Gerwe. After the passing of her mother in 2017, Gerwe spent a lot of time serving on the board of the Saluda Historic Depot Museum. When time came to propose community-outreach initiatives, Gerwe had an idea. “I noticed and felt the absence of a theater in Saluda. For a very artsy town, there’s not even a small theater. I proposed to the board that I could start a theater group for their outreach-grant requirement.”
Gerwe, who retired from teaching in the Clemson University psychology program in 2011 to become a published author and playwright, didn’t know what to expect when she posted a simple poster in the town post office that read: Open Call for Actors, Stage Hands, Costume Designers, Wannabe Stars of All Ages!
To everyone’s surprise, 40 people showed up at the Depot (13 of them children) for auditions and interviews. “I was drawn to the kids immediately,” Gerwe says. While she met with the kids, local artist Bill Jameson talked to the adults about staging The Gin Game, a two-act play by Donald L. Coburn. Gerwe discovered the children had even bigger ambitions. When she asked them how often they’d like to meet, one responded, “Once a week, so that we get momentum.” Gerwe and 23 kids began writing an original musical together that told the history of Saluda.
A one-night-only event, that production enjoyed an audience of 300.
YAK — a name the kids picked themselves — has since performed three major productions, including two original musicals, all receiving an enthusiastic response from the community. Local musician Dan Foster (Saluda Grade) wrote the score for the troupe’s Saluda musical.
Despite early community interest, though, finding places to rehearse proved challenging and costly. Hilda Pace learned of the troupe’s space issue when she and Gerwe volunteered together at the Thrifty Barn to support the Senior Center (another location the kids had tried to rehearse in, without much success). Gerwe says, “I started telling Hilda, ‘If we only had a place of our own…’ and she said, ‘I’ve got a place.’”
Pace felt her mother would have wanted her property to become a place that serves the children of Saluda. To become a proper theater, the building required a total renovation. A volunteer team formed in 2019 and continued working all through COVID in order to get the theater ready for a September 2021 grand opening. Henderson County Capital Projects Construction Manager David H. Berry has overseen the renovation. “Volunteers have probably put $60,000 dollars into this building, even though we’ve only spent eight [thousand],” Gerwe says.
Theater and entertainment professionals who live in the area have also lent their time and expertise to the cause. One of them is Saluda retiree Richard Rutherford, who revisited the area following a cross-country trip in his Shelby Cobra, traveling with his son from Camp Pendleton, California, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund and the Special Operations Warrior Fund.
Rutherford designed and built sound, video, and lighting systems for theaters, clubs, and schools in Los Angeles for more than 35 years. “I’ve done a lot of live-event production,” Rutherford says. “Big, glamorous parties for the Oscars, the Grammys, hundreds of those types of events.” He’s also built out all of the Improv and Funny Bone comedy clubs nationwide. “I’ve remodeled every nightclub on Sunset Boulevard at one time or another,” he remarks.
With Rutherford’s equipment connections and vast experience, The Mountain Page Theater has excellent acoustics — and the same type of lighting used when Aerosmith opened the Sunset Strip House of Blues in 1994.
Rutherford is also involved on the acting side. He played a lead role in Gerwe’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (which the Players plan to revive this holiday season) and he’ll be appearing in a new radio play series, debuting this fall with Gunsmoke, based on the classic American television series.
“This is one of those places where people value community,” Rutherford says. “Many people involved have never done anything like this before. It’s like a sacred space for the magic of self-discovery.”
Meanwhile, Gerwe’s young actors have been reading Shakespeare together and writing an original musical based on the life of David Bowie. Saluda Elementary plans to bus kids to the theater for an after-school program starting this year. “The kids work harder than the adults do,” Gerwe says. “I give them a lot of credit. I didn’t know I would love this — it just happened.”
The Mountain Page Theater, 1303 Mountain Page Road, Saluda. For information about the September 11th grand opening of Saluda’s Got Talent! featuring music by Dan Foster and the Radio Rangers, a preview of Gunsmoke, and more, see mountainpage.theater or Mountain Page Theater on Facebook.