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New theater company moving into former Playhouse space downtown

A new company has signed a lease for the former Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown space and plans a heavy schedue of professional theater, musical performances and children's theater starting in February.

The Center for Art & Inspiration opens its doors at 125 S. Main on Feb. 23. Founded by theatrical writer and producer Jeanie Linders, the venture also will include a pop-up Malaprop’s bookstore, the renowned independent bookstore in downtown Asheville, and The Artful Cup Coffee Bar featuring the gourmet roasts of Independent Beans of Hendersonville's Historic Seventh Avenue District, the center said in a news release.

The Center will include professional theatre from Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre under the direction of Broadway veteran Jimmy Ferraro (including My Big Fat Italian Murder Mystery, The Improper RoyalTea Murder and Murder on the High C's) to The Center Stage "Star" Series featuring "Liberace," "Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis," "John Denver," and "Barbra." International touring shows to be presented by The Center at Blue Ridge Community College's Bo Thomas Auditorium include In The Mood, a 1940s Big Band Musical Revue and the original London production ABBAMANIA. A Repertory Theatre Troupe will be showcased in Off-Broadway's Buyer and Cellar and Church Basement Ladies.

Locating to The Center from Ft. Lauderdale, Dream Child Productions will bring a season of shows for children under the direction of founder Andrew Fiacco. Included in family programming will be events such as Disney's FROZEN Sing-A-Long.

Also on the opening schedule are the Hendo Story Club, a series of creative art classes including Zentangle, Images in Words, Peeps & Chix H20 Color, plus Stand-Up Comedy 101 and 2ND SUNDAYS with musicians, storytellers, author talk-backs and more.

"It's an ambitious schedule," Linders said in a news release, "but we have a team of professionals who are very committed to making this happen for our area. Having a meet-and-greet facility that can serve as a community destination for arts, entertainment and the opportunity to meet like-minded people has always been a dream of mine."

"I believe that the continued growth of Henderson and nearby counties will make The Center the go-to alternative for top quality offerings in our backyard as opposed to down the road in Asheville," she said.

Linders is the writer of Menopause: The Musical, a comedy that has played in more than 450 U.S. cities and another 300 worldwide. She believes there's room for more professional theater in the region, even though residents here already have access to performances at the Flat Rock Playhouse and in Greenville, S.C., and Asheville.

"The truth of the matter is, there's an audience that is looking for a different type of performance and that's what we're offering," she said. "We're very excited about what the potential is here. What we do is totally different than what Flat Rock does so I don't think we're in competition with Flat Rock at all."

Tickets are now on sale at www.thecenterai.com. Special pre-opening discounts, group sales savings and other information are available by calling 828-697-8547. The Center for Art & Inspiration including Malaprop's Books and The Artful Cup Coffee Bar will be open Tuesday through Sunday.