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Carolina Theatre receives $100,000 from VF Foundation for new stage lighting

GREENSBORO — Martin Campbell has thought for years that the Carolina Theatre needed better stage lighting.

Many stage lights in the historic downtown theater use old-style incandescent bulbs with cellophane-like colored filters — also called gels — to illuminate performers and scenes.

Touring artists and their production crews specify the lighting they want, so the theater often rents equipment to accommodate a show.

“We are very far behind,” said Campbell, the theater’s technical director, as he showed the current fixtures. “It gets by, but a lot of people are starting to walk in here expecting a lot more than what we can do.”

That soon will change.

Thanks to a $100,000 gift from the VF Foundation, the theater will replace many of those incandescent fixtures with LED theatrical illumination.

The move to LED will significantly reduce electrical consumption and bring new color-changing and design capabilities to stage productions.

“This is going to be a huge step in the right direction,” Campbell said.

The new stage lighting represents the latest step in the rejuvenation of the 91-year-old theater at 310 S. Greene St.

VF Foundation, the private foundation financed by VF Corp., focuses on environmental sustainability, and its Free To Be movement to encourage creative self-expression.

“Supporting important initiatives in our community, particularly those that include a sustainable and environmentally responsible component, are a high priority for the VF Foundation,” VF Corp. executive vice president Anita Graham said in a news release.

Brian Gray, Carolina Theatre executive director, said he hopes to have the new lighting installed by the end of summer.

Last summer, the nonprofit theater underwent the first phase of a $2.5 million rejuvenation, to be financed with donations and grants.

The work retained the 1927 historic appearance while updating for comfort and technology.

When the theater reopened in October, visitors to its first and second floors saw new auditorium seating, new carpet, fresh paint, an expanded concessions area and renovated restrooms.

Audiences have enjoyed enhanced sound. New permanent speakers, tuned to the room, hang from the ceiling on the sides of the proscenium, no longer in the middle. A new audio loop improved sound for guests with hearing aids.

“We need to make sure that the first phase of our project is about client comfort and bringing people in,” said Randy Spivey, who co-chairs the capital campaign with Irish Spencer.

“But we have to be cognizant of the magic we make happen,” Spivey said. “It’s visual. It’s sound. It’s a total experience.”

The new theatrical lighting will add to the magic.

The theater has 120 fixtures. Some were purchased from the 1982 World’s Fair in Tennessee and are used occasionally in The Crown, the theater’s third-floor performance space.

The theater had planned to wait for the renovation’s second phase to replace old stage lighting.

VF Foundation’s unexpected grant changed that.

The $100,000 will replace 50 to 60 fixtures at an average cost of $2,000 each, Campbell said.

More will be replaced when the theater raises the entire $182,000 budgeted for LED fixtures, theater Development Director Spencer Conover said.

Some current but newer fixtures will be kept.

Campbell is now selecting the lights.

As the theater undertook the renovation last summer, it encountered an unexpected expense.

City fire inspectors said it needed to update its fire detection and alarm system to meet current codes, Gray said.

So it installed a new one at a cost of $127,920, Conover said.

More renovation awaits.

The boiler and hot water tank must be replaced.

Existing space near The Crown — including an old projection booth — will be renovated as dressing rooms for performers and a connecting walkway from the fourth-floor elevator lobby.

Performers in The Crown now use its catering kitchen as a dressing room.

The tech booth will move to the fourth level.

That work could be done over next winter or next summer, Gray said.

“We have tried not to move forward with anything that is not paid for,” Spivey said.

The theater’s board of directors awaits the results of a study of the building’s decorative terracotta facade. That will determine work to be done and its cost.

So far, nearly $2.3 million has been raised toward the original $2.5 million goal, Spivey said. That doesn’t include the VF Foundation grant.

To cover the unexpected gift and alarm system, the campaign will raise its goal to $2.8 million, Spivey said.

Renovation to date has proven valuable, Spivey said. Although they have not compiled attendance figures yet, theater staff has noticed an increase.

“It’s driving increased giving, more earned revenue, more interest in renting the building by people who produce events,” Spivey said. “So it’s an investment that is paying off for the community.”

Photos: Carolina Theatre lights

Backpacks that redefine accessibility for disabled individuals now for sale by North Davidson graduate who used it to tour Europe

The logo on the shoulder strap of “We Carry Kevan” backpacks.

Kevan Chandler has a neuromuscular disease (spinal muscular atrophy) and started a nonprofit “We Carry Kevan” after his friends carried him around the world in a backpack. He has designed a backpack for people with disabilities to make the world more accessible.

Kevan Chandler has a neuromuscular disease (spinal muscular atrophy) and started a nonprofit “We Carry Kevan” after his friends carried him around the world in a backpack. He has designed a backpack to sell to handicapped people to make the world more accessible.

“We Carry Kevan: Six Friends, Three Countries, No Wheelchair” by North Davidson graduate Kevan Chandler.

WINSTON-SALEM — When it comes to redefining limits for people with disabilities, Kevan Chandler is ahead of the pack.

His revolutionary backpack has allowed him to be carried across the world and partake in handicapped-inaccessible experiences, like walking the Great Wall of China, dancing in the streets of Paris and scaling 600 stairs to see an Irish monastery.

Now Chandler is hoping the specially-designed backpack that has changed his life can help others with disabilities embark on both grand and daily adventures.

“It makes the world more accessible by adjusting your own situation,” said Chandler, who has spinal muscular atrophy and is wheelchair-bound. “I think it provides opportunities for friends and family to do things together in a way they’ve never been able to before.”

Partnering with German company Deuter, Chandler has built a fully-adjustable backpack that is geared toward carrying kids and adults up to 70 pounds who have disabilities, like spinal muscular atrophy, spina bifida and cerebral palsy.

The backpacks — modeled after toddler-carrying packs — have a seat, an adjustable neck pillow, pockets, a hydro-pack and wrist straps and stirrups that can be lengthened, shortened or removed.

“The wrist straps are Velcro so they can stick on, say if a child has spasms when they get excited, they can be held down a bit more,” said Chandler, a graduate of John Wesley College in High Point, now Laurel University. “It’s very adjustable.”

Three hundred backpacks are set to arrive at a Greensboro warehouse this week and are for sale internationally.

The backpack can accommodate 70 pounds, including the rider, pack and contents.

They cost $375 each and are available online at

“This is the culmination of a lifelong effort and lifelong experience,” said Chandler, who grew up in Winston-Salem and now lives in Indiana. “We want to use the backpacks as the launch-point for a bigger conversation on what accessibility looks like and how that should be centered around people helping people.”

The first version of the backpack, designed by Hudson’s Hill, a hand-stitched denim-and-leather apparel company on Elm Street in Greensboro, was originally created as a means to allow Chandler to travel to Europe in 2016.

Chandler, 33, left his wheelchair behind for the first time in his life and was carried by his friends for three weeks in the backpack, a journey that he documented in his newly-released book “We Carry Kevan.”

In 2018, Chandler and his friends traveled to China, where they visited orphanages for kids with mobility and developmental disabilities and donated some of the modified backpacks.

Ben Duvall, who carried Chandler on the Great Wall and through parts of Europe, said the backpack is pretty easy to use from the carrier’s perspective and has padded shoulder straps and chest and waist belts that clip together.

“It’s a comfortable pack,” Duvall said. “I think what’s cool with Kevan in there is we can experience things together.”

Chandler — who has a degree in counseling and used to worked in prisons and drug rehabilitation centers — now works full-time at the nonprofit he founded, “We Carry Kevan.”

He said the primary focus at the nonprofit right now is to distribute the one-of-a-kind backpacks to as many people as they can help.

“The two years in between the two trips we got to interact with a lot of families and hear their stories. We realized that the backpack provided hope,” Chandler said. “I think it really validated what we were doing and showed us the real depth to which this can go.”

Chandler — who was wearing an “I want to live in a world without disability stigma” T-shirt at his parents’ Winston-Salem home Friday — said families have already used the backpacks for many wheelchair-inaccessible activities, like hiking, trips to the zoo and rides on the merry-go-round.

The backpack has changed his life and allowed him to do things he never thought possible, said Chandler, who is the youngest of three and the second in his family to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy.

“We’re really excited because this can help people all over world, from all different walks of life, adults and kids alike,” Chandler said. “The backpack is the start. The possibilities that it opens up and the conversations that it starts is a big thing.”

Inside today's newspaper

Check out photos from area High School Graduations ââ INSIDE, A4-5 and at

An interesting article in today's newspaper

T-rex returns: Dinosaur exhibit reopens at the Smithsonian after a $110 million renovation. Page A2

Democrats begin public airing of Mueller report

WASHINGTON — House Democrats have scheduled a series of hearings this coming week on the special counsel’s report as they intensify their focus on the Russia probe and pick up the pace on an investigative “path” — in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some of them hope leads to impeachment of the president.

In doing so, they are trying to draw the public’s attention on the allegations that President Trump sought to obstruct a federal investigation and they want to highlight his campaign’s contacts with Russia in the 2016 election.

And they will lay the groundwork for an appearance from Robert Mueller himself, despite his stated desire to avoid the spotlight.

The hearings will focus on the two main topics of Mueller’s report, obstruction of justice and Russian election interference.

The House Judiciary Committee plans to cover the first topic at a Monday hearing on “presidential obstruction and other crimes.” The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday intends to review the counterintelligence implications of the Russian meddling. Mueller said there was not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction.

On Tuesday, the House has scheduled a vote to authorize contempt cases against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas from the Democratic-controlled House.

Barr defied a subpoena to provide an unredacted version of Mueller’s report, along with underlying evidence. McGahn, who is frequently referenced in the report, has defied subpoenas to provide documents and testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

With Trump pledging that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Democratic leaders want to avoid repeated floor votes on contempt resolutions that detract from their legislative agenda.

The procession of hearings and votes in the week ahead is partly designed to mollify anxious Democrats who have pushed Pelosi, D-Calif., to begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Pelosi has so far rejected that option, preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president, including the court fights and hearings.

During a meeting with the House Judiciary Committee chairman, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and other committee heads last week, Pelosi made the case that she would rather see Trump voted out of office and “in prison” than merely impeached, according to a report in Politico.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who pleaded with Pelosi last month to start an inquiry, said the votes and hearings are going to be enough, for now, as they wait to see what happens in court.

“I am very satisfied that things are moving in the right direction,” Raskin said. “And I think the American people are getting increasingly educated and engaged about the lawlessness of the president.”

Rep. David Cicilline, a Judiciary Committee member who favors an impeachment inquiry, took pains to avoid separating himself from top Democrats such as Pelosi.

“We should never proceed with impeachment for political reasons. We should never refuse to proceed with impeachment for political reasons,” Cicilline, D-R.I., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Educating the American public on what is in the Mueller report is a priority for Democrats, who believe Trump and his allies have created the public impression that the report said there was no obstruction of justice. Trump has made that assertion repeatedly, echoing Barr’s judgment that there was not enough evidence in the report to support a criminal obstruction charge. Mueller said in the report that he could not exonerate Trump on that point.

The special counsel did not find evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But the report details multiple contacts between the two.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the goal of the Wednesday hearing will be to explain to the American people “the serious counterintelligence concerns raised by the Mueller report, examine the depth and breadth of the unethical and unpatriotic conduct it describes, and produce prescriptive remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”