Theater opens tonight

WINDER - The Colleen O. Williams Theater will see its debut performance tonight with the presentation of Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite" directed by Leslie Kimbell and Billie Nye-Muller.

The 6-year-old Winder-Barrow Community Theater group will present five shows over the next two weekends.

The theater is located on the top floor of a newly renovated historical building constructed in the late 1890s, according to Cultural Arts Director Don Wildsmith. The 207-seat theater also has sufficient space for about 15 wheelchairs, Wildsmith said.

Nearly every family in Barrow County has a tie to the former factory. Generations of Barrow residents worked inside its walls, first sewing denim work pants for Carwood Manufacturing, and later for Duck Head, which opened its clothing manufacturing facility in the structure in the 1960s, Wildsmith said. When Duck Head moved out, it deeded the property to the city of Winder.

The structure sat empty for several years and has undergone extensive renovations. Today the old factory is as lively as ever. Lanier Technical College leases a portion of the building for its adult education classes. The new community center occupies another section with the Georgia Piedmont Arts Center located on the ground floor. The arts center is a cooperative program providing classes and display space for painting, sculpture and pottery.

In April, the city of Winder hired Don Wildsmith, then president of the Winder-Barrow Community Theater group, to serve in the newly created position of Cultural Arts Director at an annual salary of $52,000. Wildsmith, who retired in 1997 after serving 32 years in the U.S. Navy, earned two theater degrees during his lifetime and worked in theater groups all over the world, he said.

When it came time to name the new theater, WBCT members immediately thought of Colleen Ouzts Williams, a former teacher who started the first drama program and Thespian Society at Winder High School.

Williams passed away last spring from cancer.

Her brother, Winder Mayor Buddy Ouzts, was concerned that people would think he got the theater named for his sister.

"The theater people came to me and said they wanted to name it after her, and I was afraid they would think I did all this for her," Ouzts said. "I said, 'Go talk to her and ask. Then go to each individual councilman and tell them it was your-allses idea.'"

Wildsmith is full of plans for the cultural arts center.

"It is a perfect venue for music, dance, we can do any type of musical venue, and we have meeting rooms for conferences and receptions," Wildsmith said. "Our prospects for cultural arts center are unlimited. WCTV station just moved in and, Yargo Community Band will perform there. We are working with the board of education to set up programs for middle and high school students."

SideBar: If you go

' What: "Plaza Suite" presented by the Winder Barrow Community Theater

' Where: Colleen O. Williams Theater, 89 E. Athens St., Winder

' When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10 and 11 and 3 p.m. Aug. 12

' Cost: $10 for seniors, students and teachers or if purchased in advance; $12 day of the show. Tickets are available at Pam Veader's State Farm Insurance Office, 41 S. Center St., Winder.