Arts Performing Arts

A Look at Flat Rock Playhouse’s Fascinating Past

(Left) Founder Robroy Farquhar. (Right) Farquhar hanging the playhouse sign

The Vagabond Players, a group of struggling performers organized in 1937 and led by Robroy Farquhar, hit their stride once they landed in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1940.

After two seasons performing in a 150-year-old converted grist mill at Highland Lake, an extended absence due to World War II and post-war years spent thriving at a playhouse in Lake Summit, the troupe finally purchased an 8-acre lot in Flat Rock, where a rented big top gave birth to FRP in 1952.

“Robroy Farquhar knew what he was doing when he chose Flat Rock as the setting for his theatre,” says FRP managing director Paige Posey. “Unlike today, there were few entertainment options, so wealthy summer residents and folks from neighboring towns attended the weekly performances for a dose of culture, a glass of honey lemonade and a hearty laugh.”

As the region continued to grow, so did the Playhouse. In 1961, by Act of the North Carolina General Assembly, FRP was designated The State Theatre of North Carolina. In 1980, when Robroy’s health began to fail, his son Robin gave up his music career in Atlanta to return to Flat Rock and take over leadership of the Playhouse. Robin started the mantra ‘grow your own’, which has been the backbone of the operation ever since.

(Left) Actors prepare backstage. (Right) Look Homeward Angel

“Every season, in addition to the core company of professional actors, a group of college-aged theatre students were recruited to spend their summer as apprentices,” says Posey. “Many of them, myself and producing artistic director Lisa K. Bryant included, became the future leaders of FRP.”

Over the years Robin introduced programming that was instrumental to the theatre’s enduring success. In 1988, his love of music led him to begin scheduling full-scale musical productions that became the anchors of the summer season. During the 1990s and early 2000s, educational programming grew to new heights as well, with a youth theatre program launched under the direction of Betsy Bisson. A volunteer guild that became known as the Supporting Players was also formed.

“The Supporting Players design and maintain the Playhouse gardens, transport artists to and from regional airports and host the annual gala fundraiser,” says Posey. “They are loyal ambassadors and to date have raised over a million dollars in support of FRP.”

By the time of Robin Farquhar’s death in 2008, the Playhouse had gone from a few weeks of shows each summer to a nine-month season including Broadway musicals, comedy, drama and theatre for young audiences. Though the Playhouse is currently closed due to COVID-19, FRP staff look forward to a future dedicated to the theatre’s mission of “enriching lives through the art of theatre by sustaining production excellence, nurturing talent and inspiring creativity in a safe haven for artistic vision, life-long learning and creative work.”

Learn more at FlatRockPlayhouse.org.

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