Buchanan honored as first recipient of Jim Knorr Award

Presentation capped a night of arts and entertainment at theatre benefit

BUCKHANNON — Tears rolled down Judy Knorr’s cheeks as she sat in the front row of the theatre, intently watching the recipient of the first ever James Knorr Award play a musical tribute to her husband.

Up on stage, it was only longtime BCT member Keith Buchanan, his guitar and a cover of the Dan Fogelberg classic, “Leader of the Band.”

At Saturday night’s first ever Colonial Theatre benefit, Buchanan honored the man who was a true leader in the performing arts in Upshur County: BCT founder and former mayor, Jim Knorr.

Although Knorr was unable to attend due to illness, his family and friends were there for the duration of the benefit, which was capped off by BCT executive producer Erika Kolenich presenting Buchanan with the first James Knorr Award.

Knorr, a longtime Buckhannon-Upshur High School vocal music teacher and choir director well-known for his ventriloquism, founded BCT in 1971, the same year its first show, “Annie Get Your Gun,” premiered.

“BCT founder Jim Knorr had a vision that has come to life for you here today, a vision of community that can come together to value art, a community that can provide a creative outlet for children and adults to share artistic experiences and entertain,” Kolenich said. “Not a rehearsal, performance or administrative meeting goes by where those who lead BCT today don’t think of Mr. Knorr and his significant contributions not only as the founder of the Buckhannon Community Theatre, but as the former mayor of the City of Buckhannon.”

“Mr. Knorr inspires all of us who know him with his love of theater, his love of music, his love of family, his love of his students and his love of his city,” Kolenich added.

The James Knorr Award will be given each year to an individual who carries on Knorr’s legacy by dedicating his or her life to cultivating performing arts events; supporting younger actors, musicians and vocalists; and promoting the City of Buckhannon, Kolenich said.

“I am proud and honored to present the first annual BCT Jim Knorr Award to my mentor and friend, Keith Buchanan,” Kolenich said.

Buchanan said although he was humbled and honored by the recognition, the evening wasn’t about him. Hosted by independent theater professional k.b. saine and coordinated by ART26201 and the BCT in conjunction with the City of Buckhannon, the Colonial Theatre benefit was about raising enough money through ticket sales and other donations to refurbish the historic theater and transform it into a performing arts venue and community multi-purpose space. Specifically, the event was put on to raise the $5,000 needed in matching funds for an $102,000 grant the city had been awarded through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History to restore the historic theater, which operated as the Colonial Theatre from 1924-1973, before coming to be known as Cinema V from 1973 to 1980.

“Tonight’s not about me,” Buchanan said. “Tonight’s about Jim Knorr and his legacy and the many experiences that he was involved in that have a profound impact on our lives.”

Between ticket sales and general donations, the benefit raised about $4,000, city architect Bryson VanNostrand said Tuesday.

“A lot of people gave more than just the ticket price,” VanNostrand said. “I think it went great. We’re pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps one little piece at a time. We pulled it off. Eventually, that space is going to be the premier theater location in Buckhannon.”

The benefit featured an array of musical performances, showcasing the theater group the Rusty Mechanicals, the newly formed Upshur County Youth Symphony Orchestra, piano and vocal performances by Shelby Williams and Katlin Kouns and more. Performances were interspersed with the sharing of memories of the Colonial Theatre in its heyday by Hudson McMurtrie, Bob Post and Neil Roth.

But perhaps the most captivating speaker of the evening was Ella McNeish, who will play “Lucille” in the BCT’s upcoming production of “Junie B. Jones, the Musical,” slated for Aug. 2-5 at W.Va. Wesleyan College’s Performing Arts Center. McNeish highlighted exactly why restoring the old Colonial Theatre into a new performing arts space matters.

“I have played soccer, taken dance classes and gymnastics, but theater, singing, music, the arts, I discovered that as my passion,” McNeish said. “I joke with people and say theater is my sport, but really, it is. Just like athletes, I spend many days and weeks practicing and preparing for my parts in plays and musicals.”

McNeish said sports aren’t for every child.

“Not all kids choose athletics,” she said. “Kids like me, we choose the arts. Our community needs to provide as many opportunities as possible for kids. We need access to athletics, clubs and arts. My performances have built my self-confidence. They have helped me become a strong public speaker at my school. Bringing a character to life is an amazing experience.”

McNeish said she’s starred as an orphan, parrot, princess, blind deaf mute, a dancing fork and a tap-dancing rat.

“No matter how big or small the role, I know that all parts are important, and that it takes everyone to make a show come to life,” McNeish said. “There will be 27 kids in ‘Junie B. Jones.’ Twenty-seven kids. That’s a team. We need a theater to get completely funded so that our team will always have a place to play our sport.”

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