Whirligig Stage: A Platform for Community & Culture
By Kylee Pearl
Located in Uptown Greenville’s Dickinson Avenue Arts District, Whirligig Stage is a hub for entertainment, local art, culture, and community. Whirligig provides a sense of unity and belonging, while indulging creativity through theatrical performances and classes for all ages. Whether you’re planning a date night, a group social experience, or personal enrichment, Whirligig offers a variety of unique experiences every day of the week.
“Whirligig Stage is a place to come together around the creation and enjoyment of the arts and our community, a place to celebrate,” explains Kepner.
Community is at the center of the Whirligig philosophy, making it perfect for gathering with family, friends, and making new connections. There are monthly theater productions, comedy shows, puppet shows, theater classes, poetry readings, film festivals, and showings of local artists.
Owners Jason Coale and Elana Kepner want to spark inspiration through the visual arts. The journey began when the two met while completing their master’s degrees in the theater programs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Since then they have worked professionally in theaters across the country as well as teaching at the high school and college level.
The Whirligig Story
The Whirligig story began in the fall of 2016. Executive Director Coale and Artistic Director Kepner share a passion for theater and Uptown Greenville. Building the company from the ground up, the husband and wife team used their combined experience and resources to start laying the foundations for what would become Whirligig Stage.
“We wanted to create a space where people could come and feel like they were a part of something, that they could come in and be inspired or create something they were proud of,” says Kepner.
What began as a production company performing under a tent in a parking lot has developed into a lively and powerful venue filled with constantly shifting programs and classes.
“Working in the tent was hard. We are ecstatic to now be inside, but there was definitely some magic to it,” exclaims Coale. “You walked into that tent in the middle of winter and knew something special was coming. We had raised seating, heaters, lighting equipment, video projections, actors, musicians…all crammed into an event tent in the middle of what had become a bit of a construction zone. It was like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia.”
The Whirligig Experience
The prime location in the heart of Uptown Greenville encourages patrons to enjoy a fully local experience. Surrounded by diverse local restaurants and gathering places such as Pitt Street Brewery, Ford + Shep, University Edge and Smash Waffles gives visitors plenty of options for dinner before a show, drinks after, and a good time just waiting to be had.
The passion that makes Whirligig Stage so unique is evident upon walking through the door and being welcomed by the owners. Whether coming in to buy a ticket, to chat, or to reserve the theater space for an event, Whirligig Stage fosters a sense of unity and belonging.
“We’ve embraced the motto to ‘Revel, Revolve, and Reveal’ just like the whirligig, North Carolina’s official state folk art,” Kepner explains. This is a place for all to come together in celebration, but then to look at these works and life from different perspectives and hopefully to learn something from the experience or better yet, to be changed by it.”
Every production and performance reveals the devotion and collective creative mindset of the Whirligig team. While some of the shows are presented by Whirligig and feature artists who have honed their skills from performance after performance on the road, other shows are produced in house and require weeks of preparation.
“I had no idea how much this was going to take,” marveled first-time actor Ed Scanlon. “It is totally worth it because I love it here, but I understand why people can’t be in every show.”
There is typically a new play produced each month which means there are often several productions simultaneously in the creation process. Auditions and interviews are held every few weeks with ample opportunities to be part of the show both on and off the stage.
With 15 to 20 events each month, including new play productions, comedy shows, karaoke nights, improv acts, music and paint nights, and endless entertainment, Coale feels that Whirligig is hitting a good stride. Some shows, such as the 2018 productions of “James and the Giant Peach” and “Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Play” cater to a younger audience, while others, such as the “Yoddle-A-Hee Who Dunnit?” murder mystery dinner theater invited a more mature crowd for an audience-participation experience of improv and intrigue.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from our audiences and the artists has really kept this project going. It is also easy to see the passion behind the work being done and I think people really appreciate that. Above everything else though, most of our guests just like that there is something fun to do,” says Coale.
In addition to scripted productions, Whirligig offers multiple opportunities for community members to improve and showcase their creative skills. Try your hand at performing poetry on stage, sign up to do stand-up, or take one of their many classes to hone your improv/acting/magic skills.
Support local businesses. Enjoy each other’s company. Be creative. And the next time you’re looking for something to do in town, there’s always something happening at Whirligig Stage. There is no place like Greenville, North Carolina and there truly is no place like Whirligig Stage to keep you entertained and creatively stimulated.
Whirligig Stage is located at 628 S. Pitt Street in uptown Greenville. For more information on upcoming shows, auditions, classes, memberships, and sponsorships, visit www.WhirligigStage.com, call (252) 689-8092.