For Blowing Rock Theater Founder and Producing Director Mark Wilson, thanking Jerry Burns was another tradition in the historic wheel thus set revolving, circa 1986. Mark gave over 300 speeches, most of them in front of the stage to the show audiences. New Yorkers joked: “You’re the thanking-est producer ever!”
Jerry and Mark had common interests before they soldiered the theatre alliance. Jerry was a Gemini like Mark. He liked his gardens and his cat, like Mark. He liked model trains and he didn’t have children either, like Mark. He had always a half dozen pursuits from scouting to photos to volunteer firefighting. You never knew in what uniform he’d turn up. Jerry’s main role was Editor of the small town good news newspaper, but once Mark brought him the Stage Company, he’d found his ultimate interest. Circus to the maximus.
Jerry loved Mark’s creation more than any of his other hobbies or pet projects. He and his wife Janice adopted it as God-Parents, and it was a good role to have. As #1 Volunteer, Editor Jerry enjoyed the quintessential good cop/bad cop partnership by scooping bouquets as Producer Mark implemented vision, strategy and management.
Producers know this trade secret: They have one good day they can do no wrong, and that’s the day they hire the talent. After that, they can do no right and they know nothing about the business, according to the talent they hired. Other things you learn in show business: It IS a business, it is ALL for show, and you are EITHER squeezed adrenally making it happen OR enjoying your guest appearance. People are ONLY either IN the show, ENJOYING the show or trying to INTERRUPT the show. Eventually EVERYONE believes their own press – especially actors, and sometimes editors.
Jerry supported the theater, was generous with his press, and helped the technical staff, whenever asked. He was an affectionate blend of Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife. Mark introduced him routinely to the audience as “the best friend of Blowing Rock” and would say “if we ever do get a permanent theater of our own, I hope the community will call it the Jerry Burns Theater. ”
Mark perfected the art of creating the illusion that Blowing Rock was the idyllic summer stock town of warm welcoming arms that jaded actors dreamed was possible. Jerry was a leading player in that guided masquerade. For artists, it was bliss. Utopia. Brigadoon. Where else in one’s professional life could one hope to find the opening of one’s show the headline, in 2 inch type, and not a bad review?
A well-intentioned theater producer might find insinuated into his carefully written, understated 400 word press release a whopper of a hyperbolic quote he NEVER actually wrote, said, or would EVER say, thereby setting expectations so high the public hated him for the pompous producer gasbag he sounded like in print…but that’s the liability of free press, so the producer says thank you humbly, again, with a toothless grin.
Year after year, the company members learned to love Jerry’s adoration – from the good luck crystals he gave to every one at the beginning of the season – to the Blowing Rock blankets he got a local store to give each one at the season finale closing night party held at his home in the heart of town.
Jerry watched Mark’s back more often than not. They both worked alone more often than not. They kept the little outpost going all Winter dancing with the wolves for the tribe’s eventual return – for at the end of each Summer, the bus door squealed shut, and the company members, the seasonal residents, and all the love left them standing on the curb in the chill of the Fall, as a few playbills blew down empty streets.
And just in time, from the precipice of the dark cold reality that is the true core of Blowing Rock for those in public service, Jerry would pull the arrows from Mark’s back for the hope of Spring. And you can believe it – there were barbarians at the gate. Jerry’s first heart attack was the immediate result of defending the theatre against one of the town’s screaming residents.
In the end, Jerry delivered the fort. He led the mission of erecting the building intended to become the permanent home for Mark’s theatre company, as Mark had proposed. That was hard work and monumental accomplishment – literally – and for that, Jerry deserves credit. The town didn’t put Jerry’s name on the building but that’s the way of money, politics and who gave how much to pay for it, and Jerry understood, no doubt.
Genuine purpose, inspiration, genius and passion cannot be purchased with Trust Funds. The Blowing Rock Stage Company is sealed forever in history as the regional standard of professional theatre excellence and the seminal inspiration for Blowing Rock North Carolina’s lavish performing arts center. Jerry and Mark emerged triumphant, having benefited the lives of thousands with a generous idea, faithful service and a shared dream.