Director Melanie Dennis gives feedback to the cast of The Outsiders during a rehearsal at the Cultural Center.

Art and theater enthusiasts will have two opportunities to take in some culture this weekend. The Lincoln Theatre Guild (LTG) production of The Outsiders opens Friday and Gallery 27 will host their fifth Mad Hatter Tea Party.

Melanie Dennis, who describes herself as an anti-bullying advocate, chose to direct The Outsiders because the story highlights some of the issues that teenagers deal with today.

Assistant director and vice president of the LTG Michael Wirth pointed out that The Outsiders’ author S. E. Hinton was 16 when she wrote the book. It delves into issues like teenage pregnancy, family issues and losing parents.

“I think it’s really important with bullying and all the things our young people face today that they see there are answers to those some of those things,” Wirth said. “There are some resolutions at the end of the show that will hopefully help them see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is help out there that you can get.”

Seventh graders read The Outsiders as part of their curriculum. They’ll have the opportunity to see the show at one of four school performances at the Cultural Center.

Dennis works with a cast of 21 actors.

Gavin Houser, 17, plays the part of Pony Boy. The Outsiders is his favorite book and movie. When he learned that the LTG planned to do the play, he jumped at the chance to audition.

Pierson Rickard, 11, plays Johnny. Dennis knew when he auditioned that he was right for the part.

“I’ve seen him in other shows and I know the potential he has,” Dennis said. “A lot of these kids they’ve only done fairy tales and more kid shows. For this show, it has so much depth and so many layers. They have worked so hard to pull that out. They’ve exceeded my expectations.”

Christina Schmidt, 14, took on the role of Bob. Her character does a lot of roughhousing which was a little hard for Schmidt to used to.

“I am, I would hope I am, I generally nice person,” Schmidt said. “Bob is a giant bully and it was very hard for me to get comfortable with putting everyone in headlocks.”

Gallery 27 owner Stacey Pilkington-Smith decided on Once Upon a Time for this year’s Mad Hatter theme. She provided a list of 30 prompts to participating artists through a private Facebook page. Smith doesn’t know which prompts the artists have selected. The pieces could be glass, sculpture, pottery, painting or any other medium of the artists’ choosing.

So far, Smith has met seven new artists from Hickory, Asheville and Charlotte.

“I think a lot of our patrons and collectors in the area love to see the show,” Smith said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s different mediums, different people and a lot of different prices.”

Jenna Webb has participated in Mad Hatter every year. She said she usually uses whatever medium she’s currently working in, which is block carving.  

“A lot of the artists like the challenge,” Smith said. “It gets them out of their comfort zone.”

The Mad Hatter Tea Party will include an actual tea party and a silent auction. It takes place Saturday 7-9 p.m. at Gallery 27 808 Hwy 27 West in Lincolnton.

Showtimes for The Outsiders are March 22, 23, 29, 30 at 7 p.m. and March 24 and 31 at 3 p.m. at the Cultural Center 403 E. Main St. in Lincolnton. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors.

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