James Hildebrand – Class of 1984
Staff, City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium

Many Burke County residents enjoy theater and other types of shows on a regular basis at the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium, usually referred to as the CoMMA. But those shows, even the ones presented by touring companies, require a lot of backstage work from the talented local staff. James Hildebrand has been a member of that staff for more than 22 years and has an extensive list of other theatrical experiences.

James has many years of theater participation, and working every day in a theater is just the kind of job he’s cut out for. “I really enjoy show days and seeing the people who come to the performances. I run into old friends who I haven’t seen in a long time, and I like seeing and speaking with the regular audience members who come to almost every production.” There’s also that little treat involving meeting a number of famous entertainers. Through the years, James has met and worked with such performers as Mickey Rooney, Davy Jones, John Tesh, Dick Van Patten, Terri Clark, Lori Morgan, Percy Sledge, Colin Ray, and both Mel Tillis and his daughter Pam – in separate shows. “Our production manager, Tony Bova, coordinates the loading in and out of the big shows, and I am there to help with any details or needs that the artists or crew may have. One interesting part of my job is that I’m often the one who picks up the artists at the airport, so I get to meet them and talk with them individually. There is a new experience every show, and it’s always interesting.”

Nothing is ever easy in the show business world, and local performances are no exception. “Days can be really long here. It’s especially challenging when we have two shows back to back. Having a week between shows is a lot easier than having one or two days to get everything moved in and out. It takes a long time to set up and tear down, and we often work long hours. It’s worth it, though, when everything runs smoothly and both the performers and the audience members are pleased. Our job is to make it look effortless, even though we may have been up much of the night.”

But James doesn’t just work backstage with other entertainers. He has performed on stage in approximately 75 productions, including thirteen years in “From This Day Forward” in Valdese and six years in “Horn in the West” in Boone. He has taken part in many productions with Old Colony Players, Hickory Community Theater, and Foothills Performing Arts in Lenoir, Some of his favorite productions were “The Crucible,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

“I’ve played almost every male role in ‘From This Day Forward,’ including King Louis, the Duke of Savoy, Pastor Perrou, Hugh, John Bounous, Louis Richard, Papa, and Mr. Pons. I’ve also been involved with lights and scenery.”

As a student at Western Piedmont Community College, James worked as a part of the tech crew in productions there. “Dr. Cheryl Oxford, who was theater professor at WPCC for many years, introduced me to Mike Philyaw at Caldwell Community College, and he connected me with other organizations.” While attending Appalachian State, James took part in school productions and did a work study through Blue Ridge Community Theater in Boone, most notably with a performance of the musical “Mame.” That led to work at Lees-McRae College and a production of “Fiorello” in 1990. “Horn in the West,” the outdoor drama about explorer Daniel Boone and the hearty settlers of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is presented each summer in Boone, and he was able to gain a great deal of experience with his six years of involvement with the production.

In addition to his duties at CoMMA, James enjoys helping with the Red, White, and Bluegrass festival in Morganton and has also worked with MerleFest in Wilkes County. “It’s fun to work with the headliners, setting up and breaking down for each band.”

He also enjoys singing with a variety of choral ensembles. He has taken part in the Caldwell Men’s Chorus and the Hickory Choral Society and often sings in the Morganton Combined Choirs at Christmas.

Like so many others, James developed his interest in performing arts at East Burke High School. “I loved being in the band directed by Miss Kathryn Siphers. She was very strict, but she really knew her stuff. She expected a lot from us, and we had so much respect for her that we did our best to live up to those expectations. Being in the band taught us self-disciple as well as musicology. One of my favorite memories was playing at the Shrine Bowl. We also traveled to and played at the Knoxville World’s Fair in 1982. Those were great times.

“I was on the tech crew for East Burke’s production of the musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in 1982. Phyllis Garrison directed the musicals, and I was a member of the cast for the production of ‘Carousel’ in 1984. School theater is a great activity for students, and I enjoyed it so much that I’m still doing it after all these years.

“My job, as enjoyable as it is, takes up a lot of time, so I am not able to be in as many shows as I would like to be. So after I retire, I plan to become even more active in theater as a performer. I’ll be able to travel and branch out even more. Until then, I look forward to seeing you at the CoMMA or at one of the productions I am a part of.”

Published December 2022

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