CHAPEL HILL, NC – A unique series of “Downton Abbey”-inspired photographs created by residents of the Carolina Meadows retirement community will be on display at PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 2015/16 Season Preview being held June 11 in the Paul Green Theatre.
The event features a Q&A from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. with the theater company’s Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj and WUNC’s Frank Stasio. The 2015/16 Season Preview is both PlayMakers’ kick-off for the upcoming theater season, as well as Haj’s farewell, since he is leaving his current position in July to lead the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
A welcome reception with food and drink will be held as part of the event from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and after the Q&A from 8:30 to 9 p.m., when guests will have the opportunity to view five of the recently completed “Downton Meadows” portraits.
A total of 13 portraits were created with the assistance of PlayMakers, which lent a variety of period costumes for use in the project. The photos and costumes will be displayed together in the lobby of the Paul Green Theatre during the reception. An information board providing background on the project will accompany the display.
“We are absolutely delighted that Carolina Meadows asked us to help them bring this idea to fruition,” said Vincent Bayyan, corporate and foundation relations manager at PlayMakers, the theatre-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “In addition to supporting the goals of our valued partners, collaborations such as this allow us to highlight the power of art as a vehicle to build strong community ties.”
Carolina Meadows resident Susan Gaca came up with the idea for “Downton Meadows” as a creative way to support UNC-TV’s annual fund drive. Inspired by the PBS television series “Downton Abbey,” Gaca, along with residents Chris Kesner and Carol Lehmann, thought it would be a great idea to have other Carolina Meadows residents dress in period costumes and portray the characters from the hit show.
Dozens of residents joined the effort, designing room settings and modeling for the portraits, which capture the creative spirit of the show and the community.
“Carolina Meadows reached out to PlayMakers for assistance in capturing the fashions and styles from early 20th-century Britain,” said Bayyan, adding that UNC-TV and Carolina Meadows are both longtime community partners of PlayMakers. The costume shop staff selected pieces from the theatre company’s extensive wardrobe storage, providing outfits and accessories reflecting the period and capturing the essence of many of the popular characters on the “Masterpiece” program.
“Displaying the portraits at this gathering allows us to share with our patrons the collaboration and commitment that all three community partners have to each other and to a vibrant arts community, whether onstage or elsewhere,” said Bayyan. “The exhibit also is a wonderful showcase of the diverse talent and creativity that exists in this area.”
The entire project from start to finish was “a true collaborative effort,” said Charlie Lehmann, a Carolina Meadows resident and one of the project’s organizers. “It had a very positive impact on the entire community and generated a lot of new friendships.”
Lehman added that all of the photographs were taken at the Carolina Meadows campus on a pro bono basis by Jack Benjamin, former Pediatrician-in-Chief of the N.C. Children’s Hospital, and additional clothing was provided by Bernard’s Formalwear.
The “Downton Meadows” photos were first shown to the public in February at a “Downton-Abbey” themed dinner held at Carolina Meadows prior to the start of the UNC-TV fund drive. Thanks to the additional awareness generated by the photo project, this year’s Carolina Meadows fund drive raised $27,250 for UNC-TV, 20 percent more than in 2014.
On March 18, 32 Carolina Meadows residents also volunteered their time at the UNC-TV studio, answering phone calls and gathering pledges. Carolina Meadows residents have been supporting the PBS affiliate’s fundraising drives for 14 years.
“This community is known for its volunteering – it’s in our DNA,” said Lehmann. “Our residents donate thousands of hours every year, including food pantries, a women’s shelter and a number of health- and aging-related organizations.”
Carolina Meadows also is a loyal community partner and supporter of PlayMakers Repertory Company. A sponsor since 1994, Carolina Meadows is PlayMakers’ longest-standing co-producer of Mainstage productions. “The relationship has remained strong and continues to grow,” said Bayyan.