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Cultural and tourism hub aims to reopen / January 07, 2021
As more people get vaccinated and the end of the pandemic lies in sight, a crucial establishment seeks to reopen — The Prizery Performing Arts Center.

Once the pandemic hit, The Prizery, the center of Halifax County’s arts scene, was forced to close and lay off its workers. The only event it was able to host was a performance by local band Red Bank Revival, held outdoors and in line with the Center for Disease Control’s and state COVID-19 guidelines.

During its hiatus, however, The Prizery board has been planning its reopening.

“We want to make it continue in the community, but we are also taking this opportunity to step back and look and see what’s best for the community and The Prizery, and improve our organization,” said Denise Hudson, vice president of The Prizery board.

“I just think that The Prizery is a very unique establishment,” said board president Philippa Deramus. “We are arts and theater; most nonprofits in the state really only focus on one, most of it being theatre.” The Prizery’s user groups include local organizations such as the Parsons-Bruce Art Association and Halifax County Little Theatre.

“We’re hearing that the community is concerned about The Prizery and its sustainability,” said Hudson. However, The Prizery has plans to hit the ground running with community involvement upon reopening. For the first six months of reopening, The Prizery will focus mainly on local talent. Plans include showcasing local bands (ranging from bluegrass to classical), art shows and children’s theater. One benefit of local talent is that it allows flexibility in scheduling and saves money — statewide and national acts such as the RIchmond Ballet must be booked a year in advance. However, The Prizery wants to continue increasing its local efforts even far into the future.

John Cannon, a Prizery board member, spoke to the importance of local involvement. “Truly, when you see the busloads of four-year-old kids coming to The Prizery, it really gets your heart pumping, knowing you’re doing a good thing.”

As for plans for Summer Theatre, when The Prizery hires up-and-coming actors to act and work alongside community members to put on plays during the summer, plans are mostly on hold. According to Hudson, planning for Summer Theatre must start months in advance, and without knowing when statewide reopening will begin, it would be a waste of money and resources to plan for a season that may not be possible — especially because The Prizery bought rights to shows last summer that could not be performed, leading to losses for The Prizery. However, the option of a “mini-summerstock” remains on the table.

The Prizery’s losses extend far beyond the loss of its summer season last year. The Prizery makes money from people renting the event space on the top floor for weddings and banquets — events that are less common due to gathering restrictions set by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The loss of The Prizery as a cultural center and event space has consequences for the surrounding area and its businesses. The Prizery boosts Halifax County’s tourism industry: according to data collected by The Prizery’s board two years ago, during the Summer Theater season, 51 percent of theatregoers were from out of town, and the average amount of money they spent in Halifax County per day was $225. Nearby restaurants such as Bistro 1888 and Southern Plenty noticed a significant portion of customers lured in by The Prizery.

“People like to go out to dinner; they make an evening of it,” said Hudson. “When we have people practicing during the day, they patronize Southern Plenty.”

Hudson, a local business owner of Hudson Heritage Farms, which deals in agro-tourism, has seen The Prizery boost her own business. Cannon, the developer of local Edgewood Townhomes, also sees the benefits of The Prizery. “In the region there are several truly great things that drive people to want to live here; The Prizery is an economic development engine,” he said.

Along with the revival of plays and musicals, education programs, art shows and other events, the board also plans to restructure its organization with its staff, especially in the wake of Chris Jones’s retirement.

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