The Last Show in the Old Building


Story by Laura McGoogan. Photos by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, N.C. – When the new Cary Arts Center opens, certain kids will see a big difference.  For some of these, it will be going home.  And a chance to stretch out.

Kids Who Make Theater

Cary’s Applause! Youth Theatre program has a gleaming gem within its commitment to theatre and acting: an opportunity for kids to learn technical theater.

Each fall and spring, Applause! stages a show for the town.  Since 2006, in addition to choosing a troupe of actors, the play directors interview youth who would like to work on scenery, costumes, props, lighting and sound effects.  A team of a dozen or so ‘techies’ is chosen.  They become the Design Team and work alongside a technical director who shares the secrets and code words of the trade, such as midstage traveler, periaktoi, gels and the cyc.

Prior to 2006, Applause! contracted out the scenery and costume production for its shows.  As Applause! grew, the number of kids interested in creating the scenery, costume and lighting also grew.  Applause! is about process and teamwork, and Rachel Green, director for Applause!, recognized that creating a Design Team for each play would be a positive addition to the program.  An intrepid group of nine inaugural Design Team members brought “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” to life.


Since then a generation of young techies have followed, many returning to the Design Team for multiple shows.  The veteran team members mentor the newcomers.  The kids grow in confidence as they supply the creativity and energy for the stage design.

And then the day came when the Old Cary High School, the longtime home of Applause! needed to be emptied out in preparation for its transformation into The Cary Arts Center.  The actors took their scripts and moved to other town facilities.  But technical theater doesn’t move as easily.  The cavernous old classrooms at Old Cary High stored several years of props, scenery pieces and costumes plus paintbrushes, tools, wood, foam and fabrics.  Applause! considered putting the Design Team concept on hiaitus while the renovations were being made.

Temporary Space

The next show “Dragonsong” was scheduled for fall 2008.  Rachel Green and those leading Cary Cultural Arts could no longer imagine a show where the scenery and props were not created by kids.  Fortunately, the town had some available space in a somewhat small cinder block building a half-block away at 100 Charlie Gaddy Lane.

Charlie Gaddy Lane?  It is the road that circles behind the downtown Cary Library.  And 100 Charlie Gaddy Lane is the low-slung one-story building that shares a parking lot with the library.  You can consider yourself a Cary long-timer if you call this building ‘the old Human Resources building’ or the ‘old Cary Senior Center’.  But you’re practically a town founder if you remember it as Cary’s original community center, when it was called The Cary Arts Center. Fitting, no?

Already housed in this space were props for Cary’s various festivals and events.  The Design Team’s many items were neatly moved into some of the rooms of this building.  There were several rooms left over which could serve as a workroom, a tailor shop and a meeting place.  To the new group, the space was perfect.

Perfect in most ways.  But perhaps the low ceilings, narrow hallway and warren of small rooms would present a challenge to the team looking to fill an entire stage with the ethereal world of “Dragonsong’s” humble fishing village of Pern.

Yet, out of this chrysalis of a building emerged a beautiful show, complete with a 20-foot fishing dock and a giant flying dragon with lacy 10-foot tall wings.  Challenge indeed.

Out of the School and Back to the Arts Center

A total of six shows have been created in the temporary space.  The upcoming show, “The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood” which begins May 19th at Sertoma Amphitheater in Bond Park, will be the last show from this unassuming space.  Leslie Pless, the technical director for this Design Team, is ushering out the traditions created here.

The building will be emptied and the props and costumes will return home to the new Cary Arts Center.  The next Design Team will again have high-ceilinged, light-filled rooms in which to collaborate and create.  The actors will again be just down the hall.

Where the Dragon Once Flew

Friends Jake McGoogan and James McNatton have been ‘techies’ on the Design Team for all of these six shows.  Both are now old enough to drive themselves to Design Team.  Both are over six feet tall and when inside must duck to avoid bumping their heads on the lighted ‘EXIT’ signs that adorn the ceiling.

I suspect that in future years, just like we drive by Grandma’s old house and marvel at how she raised so many kids in that small home, Jake and James will drive by this small building and try to convince others that they created stage sets in there, including a beautiful flying dragon.


1 reply
  1. Oldcary
    Oldcary says:

    What do you call a Cary resident who remembers an old southern antebellum home on this site with a large grape arbor out front? Jeff Suggs developed this property into the Arbor Apartments. When the “New” Library was constructed they torn down the front row of apts. I grew up down Dry St. on Page St. when it was a dirt road. Academy Street was lined with old oak trees that formed an arch over the street. And I’m not that old…not yet qualified for Medicare. LOL
    Also, thanks for your reference to the historic Cary High School old main building. I get tired of the newbies that call it Cary Elementary.

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