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South Halls community theater finds new home in Buford church
Fifth Row Center excited about dinner theater possibilities
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Donna Chalmers and her grandson Lennox Armstrong set out refreshments for members of the Fifth Row Center theater group. - photo by Kristen Oliver

Four months ago, it was in danger of closing.

Now, the community theater group known as Fifth Row Center has a home and is ready to enrich the community better than it has before.

The South Hall and North Gwinnett nonprofit theater group will be practicing and performing out of the parish hall at St. Mary and St. Martha’s Episcopal Church at 4346 Ridge Road in Buford. The center held an open house at the church Sunday evening to show off the new space and prepare for this year’s performances.

“It’s a large hall that will seat 180 comfortably,” said Donna Chalmers, artistic director for Fifth Row Center. “It has a stage, a brand new sound system and it’s adjacent to a commercial-grade kitchen. So not only will we be able to provide our audiences with stepped-up concessions, but we’re also very excited about the possibility of offering a dinner theater performance for each show.

“We’ve been wanting to do that for a very long time.”

The group technically started 10 years ago under a different name. It moved to the South Hall area and became Fifth Row Center, bouncing around a few locations, including the Buford Community Center for two years.

Last year, the theater could no longer afford the venue, and it was “without a home” for some time.

“We’ve been looking for something where we could just sort of plant ourselves in for a while,” Chalmers said. “The Gainesville Times did an article about how we don’t have a home, and it looked like we may have to close the doors and we had to cancel auditions for our Christmas show. Linda Coulombe from St. Mary and St. Martha’s read that article and contacted us.”

Now, the theater is preparing for at least a Christmas production, if not another production before it. Chalmers said she hopes to do a “Beauty and the Beast” production in the new space before long.

The center is also planning a “Wizard of Oz” summer camp at the parish hall, for children ages 5-17. The camp will be June 20-24, with a performance the last day.

The group will again be able to offer classes and additional programming during the year in the hall. Classes include stage fighting, costume design and “how to break into the business.”

For more information about auditions, camp or classes, email info@fifthrowcenter.com.

Xavier Wardlaw, who is interning with the theater group after four years as a student, said the camps and classes were an opportunity for him to make close friends.

“It’s just been amazing,” Wardlaw said. “I’ve actually gotten into my drama program at school, which allowed me to skip three years ahead in the program, because I came in with this experience.”

The open house Sunday was a chance to recruit some new actors, directors, stage managers, set designers and volunteers, as well as bring old faces into the new space. More than 50 people attended the event.

“I wasn’t sure if we would have five people here, all in my family, or if we would have 105,” Chalmers said. “This is wonderful.”

For the first time, actors this year will be paid through a profit-sharing program. Previously, all actors were volunteers.

“We’re hoping to get a whole lot of new people in, now that we are settling down,” Chalmers said. “We’re in a great location … and now we can be here, and be able to visualize it and say, ‘Wow yes, a dinner theater here would be great.’ It’s really wonderful.”

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