If you ask SouthPark’s Land Hite to identify his favorite CPCC Summer Theatre production, he really has to stop and think. He has seen countless shows in the last 39 of the theater’s 40 years in existence.
The Mountainbrook neighborhood native and resident saw “The Sound of Music” as a 14-year-old in 1974, “and was hooked.” He continued his patronage every summer during high school and college. “I would take dates to see great theater with dinner beforehand and doughnuts at Krispy Kreme afterward,” he recalled.
Hite has enjoyed everything from laugh-out-loud comedies such as “The Foreigners,” “The Producers” and “Run for Your Wife,” to the serious and dramatic such as “The Miracle Worker” and “Parade.” He’ll also throw in some contemporary Broadway hits like “Legally Blonde” and “Hairspray.” Last weekend, Hite and his wife, Laura Anne, enjoyed “Wait Until Dark,” a 1966 thriller about a blind woman caught in a dangerous con who must use her wits to escape.
“I was three rows from the stage, in the center of the action,” Hite said. “I could see the sweat and feel the fear on the performers’ faces.”
As much as the excitement of live theater, Hite enjoys the shared experience. For the last 25 years, he and Laura Anne have shared their love of CPCC Summer Theatre with friends like Jeff and Joy LeForce. Many of their guests have never been to the CPCC campus or the Halton Theater, where “Spamalot” will run July 19 to 27. Newcomers are constantly impressed.
“CPCC brings in talented actors as well as behind-the-scenes folks that put together theater that exceed expectations from a community theater,” said Laura Anne Hite.
“It’s hybrid community-educational-professional theater,” explained Tom Hollis, CPCC drama department chair and Summer Theatre artistic director.
The CPCC Summer Theatre program is actually a professional theater fueled by local talent. The program is supported through ticket sales and by the college, which provides the theater space and additional funding. Actors can be students, but most roles are portrayed by age-appropriate talent. Everyone earns either a wage or class credit.
The quality of the productions is impressive considering all five shows (three musicals, one comedy or thriller and one children’s show) are rehearsed and produced in a span of 10 weeks. Some cast and crew work multiple shows at the same time, rehearsing one in the morning and performing another at night.
In June, the Hites enjoyed “9 to 5: The Musical.” Hite remarked on the authenticity of the costumes, props and scenery, “The eye glasses, the typewriters, the desks,” he said. “Where do they find this stuff?”
Though the quality is high, ticket prices are only $18 and $22. “It’s always been important to CPCC that prices stay low so families can participate together,” Hollis said.
The Hites have supported many theater companies in Charlotte over the years. Hite’s mother, Julia Hite, longtime theater lover and volunteer usher, encouraged Land and Laura Anne to expand their subscriptions to other theaters. Then the recession hit.
“With two children about to go to college, I had to make some serious cuts in our budget,” Hite said. He dropped a pricier subscription, upped his CPCC Summer Theatre commitment to four tickets and now contributes financially. “I realize that to put on quality productions, it costs a little more than what I am charged for my tickets,” he said.
Hite’s hope is that CPCC Summer Theatre is able to grow and find new audiences. To this end, Hollis balances traditional American and European classics with shows like “Spamalot,” that might interest younger audiences.
“‘Spamalot’ is centered on the story of the Holy Grail and the twisted tail of King Arthur, but includes tributes to ‘West Side Story’ and Steven Sondheim,” Hollis said, adding that the silliness and bawdy humor of Monty Python is balanced with, “beautiful music.” The age-appropriateness of the show is PG-13.
“Hopefully people will say, ‘let’s give them a chance on this’ and come back,” said Hollis, whose ultimate goal is to spark another 39-year love of live theater in Charlotte.
Learn more about CPCC’s 40th anniversary season at http://arts.cpcc.edu.