Denver-based acting group The Backyard Players at Verdict Ridge recently donated $6,000 to the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse’s Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Lincolnton.
Funds stemmed from the actors’ performances of Sister Act: The Musical last fall.
CAC Director Sherry Reinhardt had tears in her eyes as she described the group’s dedication, performing outside in pouring down rain during the first show.
She and a number of additional community members remained glued to their seats because they were committed to a valuable cause and knew the actors spent at least six months preparing for the performance.
“I knew why I was there,” Reinhardt said. “I would have stood in the rain forever. I don’t think I’ve ever been so touched. Once you’ve seen a face broken come through that (CAC) door, the level of commitment (to the job) is different.”
Each year, The Backyard Players showcase a popular hit play in founder Grant Ewing’s Denver backyard. Money collected from the annual event benefits at least one local nonprofit.
Past recipients have included the Sally’s YMCA in Denver — for the facility’s Y Reader’s Program targeting county second-graders — along with Communities in Schools’ Backpack Program, East Lincoln Christian Ministry, Relay for Life and Noah’s Ark Animal Rescue in Hickory.
While the group currently boasts a roster of 25 to 30 actors, The Backyard Players had humble beginnings in 2004.
“I begged people to be in the show the first year,” Ewing said.
The purpose of the initial Chicago performance — a popular movie at the time — was for actors to perform various scenes from the Broadway hit for Ewing’s friend’s wedding.
With plans already in the works to construct a stage for the romantic event, Ewing and his friend made the elevated area double as an acting space.
At the time, plans didn’t exist for future shows.
However, a second performance was later planned, and over the years, shows kept coming, growing more elaborate in production and larger in audience size each fall.
“We kept setting the bar higher,” Ewing said.
Each play is performed behind the former Charlotte television reporter’s eastern county residence.
With food typically catered by Brixx: Wood Fired Pizza in Huntersville or Sports Page Food & Spirits in Denver, every performance includes a catered meal.
“The joke is we’ve served more meals out of my garage than the Salvation Army,” Ewing said.
His backyard, not too large in size, he noted, can now accommodate up to 350 people.
The area is equipped with a stage, seating, lighting and additional production equipment.
Past shows have included Grease, Young Frankenstein, The Addams Family, and The Price is Right.
While the crew is planning to take a hiatus from acting this year, Ewing said the group may schedule a performance in fall 2015.
From the overwhelming time commitment required and the financial costs involved for creating costumes, set pieces and other show materials, the group felt a year break was more than necessary.
“We’re tired,” Ewing said. “These people (actors) have committed thousands of hours of their time.”
The Backyard Players estimated spending at least $2 million in production costs over the last decade and donating nearly $180,000 in funds.
Last year, The Backyard Players donated $3,000 to the CAC.
With the state cutting funds every year for CAC support, the Lincoln County facility continues to struggle with budgeting and the future of the organization, one of 23 accredited centers of its kind throughout the state.
With 100 counties in North Carolina, the numbers reflect a limited amount of CAC facilities statewide, prompting the Lincoln County organization to service additional counties when necessary.
On Wednesday, Reinhardt led the generous acting group on a tour of the CAC building, which organization officials moved into roughly two years ago.
The agency rents the facility from the city for the annual low cost of just $1, Reinhardt said.
However, CAC officials still owe nearly $25,000 in building repairs.
With a prior cramped trailer that leaked water and maintained a number of other damages, the newer, larger space maintains kid-friendly decor and toys along with technologically advanced equipment.
All rooms are wired with video and audio capability, and the lower level, in particular, boasts what CAC officials call the “Table of Accountability.”
Located within the room is a large-screen television and long narrow table where case officials — including everyone from detectives and social workers to court officials and other case-related authorities — can gather and scrutinize children’s interviews as they take place upstairs.
Video can also stream straight to the District Attorney’s Office, if necessary, Reinhardt said.
The sensitive equipment allows everyone who listens to pick-up on every “quiver,” “sigh” or other verbal and nonverbal communication element a victim may elicit.
“This is the best CAC in the state,” Reinhardt said. “You won’t find a better one.”
With a potential shutdown this year still looming on everyone’s minds, she and other CAC workers and advocates are looking to the community for their physical and financial support through volunteering, donating or writing letters to local and state officials about the necessity of the organization.
In November, the local CAC boasted recognition from the State Bureau of Investigation for the forensic interviewing work of Susan Gaither and Emily Miller.
In 30 days, the pair interviewed nearly 50 children who attended Caron’s Care Day Care in Stanley.
According to various news media outlets in the area, the interviews were part of an investigation into allegations that daycare co-owner Robert Kirby sexually assaulted a child.
For more information on the Lincoln County CAC or to volunteer with the facility, call (704) 736-1155 or visit cac-lincolncounty.org.
The Child Advocacy Center is located at 161 Policarp Street in Lincolnton.