The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 113
What's Next for the
That's the question put
to Executive Director Jeff
Stern regularly. The theatre
has a full season of performances scheduled. Go to
for the full lineup.
In addition, says Stern,
"We want to help people
reach their potential.
House companies are
part of our vision-dance,
folk opry." Partnerships
with other organizations
in the thriving Alleghany
Highlands arts scene-the
Alleghany Highlands Arts
Council, the Clifton Forge
School of the Arts, the Al-
They were looking at a seventy-mile radius!"
It was listening to John Hillert on YouTube at the
groundbreaking for the Theatre restoration that made
Stern want to know more. "John wanted to talk about
why they were taking on this huge project. It was all
about the vision. How the theatre would help the place
he called home, by bringing the community together.
He saw the theatre as more than an economic benefit to
the Alleghany Highlands-he talked about the human
benefit. John and I were united in that."
"I knew it was a leap of faith, taking on the operation of the Historic Masonic. But the building was
spectacular, and meeting John in person reinforced
what I sensed about him. With John as the proven
visionary, I could focus on the bookings and operations, do what I do best. It wouldn't be easy-no one
put lipstick on the project, or tried to paper over any
difficulties-but I knew I had a leader by my side."
The difficulty that Jeff Stern couldn't have foreseen
when he accepted the directorship of the Historic Masonic Theatre was that John Hillert, the unwavering
energy behind the Masonic resurrection, wasn't going
to be standing next to him for very long.
Two weeks after the Historic Masonic reopened,
John Hillert was diagnosed with stage four nonsmokers
lung cancer. For 10 months, with characteristic courage
and will, he underwent surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, working from his hospital bed
and wheelchair to chart a way forward for the theatre.
That's what a hero does: persevere in the face of setTHEROANOKER.COM
backs, holding firm to the vision that set him on his
journey, to win the prize and share it with others. A
hero looks forward, not back. And when the hero's
journey is complete, we are all the beneficiaries of his
John died on May 18th, 2017, 11 days after his
daughter's garden wedding and Theatre reception, wearing his Historic Masonic Theatre t-shirt. His celebration of life was held a year to the day after the Theatre
reopened, as he would have wanted it-in the John E.
A story about a grand theatre and a hero can't be in
better company than Shakespeare. The famous "Seven
Stages of Man" speech from "As You Like It" puts us
right there on the stage, surrounded by all those who
came before us, with room for those who will come
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts, ...
Although he would be the last to claim the title,
John Hillert played the hero in bringing back the Historic Masonic Theatre. He dreamed the dream, then
rolled up his sleeves and made it happen, allowing
countless others to play their parts right next to him.
May the Historic Masonic Theatre lights burn
bright in the Alleghany Highlands and beyond, as we
move into the future that John Hillert helped envision
for us all. I
leghany Highlands Arts
and Crafts Center-are
"Why are people coming
from D.C., Richmond, North
Carolina, West Virginia to
attend theatre events? Part
of is that Clifton Forge is
the epitome of six degrees
of separation. It's common
for me to be somewhere
and have someone ask
where I'm from, and when
I say 'Clifton Forge,' hear
things like, 'Hey, my college
town-is like no place
you've ever been. And our
programming reflects that.
People come to the Alleghany Highlands for the festivals, for the experience.
We're the leading edge of
"We ARE the festival!"
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017 | 113