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S t a g e l i f e

Between Heaven and Hell

By Gwenyfar Rohler

“You have Hell?” I ask in surprise.

“I have Hell,” says Alisa Harris, owner of TheatreNOW, nodding her chestnut curls in confirmation. “There’s a four-foot space underneath,” she says, pointing to the front of the stage. “That’s why it’s lit up in the front.” She indicates the panels that conceal the underside of the stage, known in theater parlance as “Hell.” (Above the stage, if there is a fly rail system to move scenery in and out, it is known as Heaven. Theater people are nothing if not dramatic.) To an audience member, it’s a trap door in the stage where actors and props appear and disappear. Many people dream of having a theater space all their own where their creativity can flourish. Harris actually built one: TheatreNOW, a dinner theater on the corner of Tenth and Dock streets. “We were trying to figure out how to get more seats in here,” Harris tells me as I arrive at the end of that discussion. It is a great problem to have after only two years of operation. “We’re seeing quite a few repeat customers and

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Salt • September 2014

they’re all local.” Harris is clearly pleased and relieved. Building a theater from the ground up during a recession can only be described as an incredible risk. For the neighborhood, it might best be described as a rescue mission. In 2010, Harris bought the dilapidated Greens restaurant on the corner of Tenth and Dock streets. The structure, which housed a soul food restaurant downstairs and living space upstairs, had been abandoned for at least a decade. “The condition of the building . . . it wasn’t renovatable,” Harris laments. “It just wasn’t.” So she tore down the old building and began designing the structure that would go up in its place. “We did save the iconic look of the outside of the building,” she continues. “That parapet . . . 1910 is the last year that we had traced back the existing structure.” To Harris, the new building isn’t so much a replacement of the restaurant as a continuation of its commercial legacy in the neighborhood. One of the large beams from the restaurant — painted green, of course — was salvaged and is currently under the stage, safe in Hell. “There are some neighbors who said, ‘Let me look at that beam. I can tell you exactly where it was in the building.’” Harris has over forty years of experience in theater, having started acting when she was a child. But a few years ago she was asked to join a dinner theThe Art & Soul of Wilmington

Photograph by Mark steelman

At TheatreNOW, the innovative dinner theater at Tenth and Dock, seats are being filled and actors employed

September Salt 2014  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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