When the North Carolina insurance company that Steve Davis was working for transferred him to Winston-Salem in the early 1970s, the building that is now the Stevens Center was still the Carolina Hotel and Theatre.
The hotel had definitely seen better days, but it was close to work so it fit Davis’ needs as a place to stay during the week before going home to his family in Gastonia on weekends. Bored one night, he decided to head downstairs to the theater to catch the Western playing there.
After buying his soda and popcorn, he joined the seven or eight other people in the audience. He had to try a number of seats before he found one that wasn’t broken. When he finally found a reasonably satisfactory one, he stepped into the sticky remains of a spilled drink.
Leaving that night, he would have laughed if someone had told him that the theater would become his work home for 25 years.
But that’s what happened.
The Winston-Salem Journal reports that in 1978, Davis, who had been a teacher before going into insurance, took a teaching job at the N.C. School of the Arts. By the time the school renovated the Carolina Hotel and Theatre building and turned it into the Stevens Center, which opened in 1983, he was running the school’s performance facilities.
Now, after overseeing more than 14,000 performances downtown and on campus, Davis has retired as executive director of performance facilities. Scott Spencer, who has worked with Davis for 20 years as performance-facilities manager, has taken over as interim executive director.
Those who know Davis say they think of him as someone who cares about people.
“He is a very big-hearted man, and the best boss I have ever had,” said Joy Perry, the marketing and programming director for the Stevens Center’s Something for Everyone Series.
Alex Ewing, a former chancellor, said that Davis has left a lasting legacy in a wonderful staff.
“They’ve been there a long time — the same faces year after year,” Ewing said. “I think that’s a great credit.”
Davis is also known as a quick-on-the-draw comedian.
In addition to the school’s facilities here, Davis and his staff oversee the school’s Summer Performance Festival in Manteo. The audience can see the water behind the stage, and, one night, a sailboat with a red sail happened to sail behind the stage just as the Giannini Brass played “Red Sails in the Sunset.” An impressed member of the audience asked Davis how they pulled that off.
“Rehearsal,” he said.
Once, to promote an ice show, he walked on stage wearing flippers, a swim mask and a snorkel and dragging a kiddie pool.
“He will do anything for a laugh,” Spencer said.
Ask Davis what he plans to do during retirement and there’s no telling what he might say. To this particular inquiry, he replied that he was going to focus on Velcro farming. Now that he has learned to separate the two types of plants so they don’t stick together, he said, he expects things to go swimmingly.
Davis set aside the joking when he talked about the students, faculty and staff at the School of the Arts with whom he has worked over the years.
“They are all so good,” he said.
Having new students performing each year kept such annual events as The Nutcracker ballet fresh.
“I have never lost that excitement,” he said.
He also took time to praise local audiences.
“The audiences in this town are absolutely incredible,” he said.
Taking tickets has been one of his favorite things to do because he enjoys visiting with people and seeing their expressions as they head in to see something they’re looking forward to. Another bonus has been spending time with such celebrities as Gregory Peck, Victor Borge, Tim Conway, Tony Bennett and Oprah Winfrey.
Davis made a point to praise the late Larry Leon Hamlin for having the vision to establish the National Black Theatre Festival, which, since its beginning, has had many of its performances in the school’s theaters.
“It’s his gift to the city,” Davis said. “In many places, it put us on the map.”
Davis, who danced around any question that might have given away his age, started life in Goldsboro, where he met his wife, Linda. After graduating from Goldsboro High School, he headed off to Methodist College in Fayetteville. Three years in the Army interrupted his college education.
After teaching for a while, the higher salary that private industry offered started looking good, and he went to work for an insurance company as a claims adjuster. Once he was here in Winston-Salem, he got a master’s degree in educational psychology at Wake Forest University. He decided that teaching at the School of the Arts would be fun and began teaching high-school American history at the school, where his wife was already teaching physics and chemistry.
“I went from teaching at the school to working in public relations at the school, at which time I started running the theaters over there in the evenings,” he said. “I loved running the theaters on campus.”
When school and community officials began looking at turning the Carolina building into a theater, running the performance facilities became his full-time job.
Information from: Winston-Salem Journal,
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