Rotary Frolics Heads to the Big Screen!

Posted by Monica Hoel
Actually, the REALLY big screen, as they perform this year’s annual Rotary Frolics event at the Moonlite Drive-In in Abingdon.

Add the Abingdon Rotary Club to the growing list of organizations who have gotten creative during Covid.

Realizing they couldn’t pack the house at Barter Theatre as they normally did for their annual “Rotary Frolics” fundraiser, they found a new way for the show to go on. In fact, that’s their 2021 theme: “Frolics at the Moonlite: The Show Must Go On!” And that’s right; it’s going on at the Moonlite Drive-In.

Rotary Frolics is a whacky variety show that raises a lot of money every year by giving audience members a chance to be entertained by cornball jokes, iffy dance numbers, and occasionally some real talent! If that sounds harsh, don’t worry: the event has risen to fame by poking fun at themselves, community projects, and local government leaders so they have a pretty thick skin.

Tickets sell for $20 each and all proceeds go to support the amazing array of projects supported by Abingdon’s Noon Rotary club. The club has a long history of ties to Emory & Henry, with Presidents Hillman, Gibson, Schrum, and Reichard all serving as members during their time in the College’s top job. The Frolics event is celebrating its 72th anniversary this year, and for 44 years Dr. Ed Damer (E&H Philosophy Department) was the event’s director. Now that role is filled by Mark Graham, E&H Class of 1985, who now serves as the College’s Vice President for Administration and General Counsel. It’s a new name for a role that Connie Culberson (E&H ’49) held for many years – and he, too, was a mainstay performer in the Rotary Frolics (performing in 50 shows). 

Annually, the event raises thousands of dollars – all of which is put right back into the community.

Wayne Austin and Fred Parker in the Rotary Frolics as “Bert and Bart.”Mark says part of the fun of Frolics is seeing crazy performances by community leaders who are typically buttoned up in their professional roles. Fred Parker (E&H ’73) and Wayne Austin (E&H ’77) are great examples of that. Fred serves as the Washington County Virginia Treasurer and Wayne is a prominent attorney in Abingdon; but during the Frolics they are found annually in bibbed overalls telling hilarious stories of life as seen through the lens of “Bert and Bart.” They can be counted on to bring down the house.

So how will it be different this year? Well, for starters, all audience members will be in or beside their cars in the parking lot of the Moonlite Drive-In. Barter Theatre has been doing theatre performances there, so they provided a perfect and unique alternative for the Rotary Club to carry on their tradition. Also new this year is that all the Rotarians will be watching along with ticket-holders – because the entire event has been pre-recorded.

Mark says it will be a fun combination of old and new acts. “We found video of some of our favorite acts from previous Frolics events, and then we recorded some new skits with jokes and material that are about current events, and, of course, we also have real talent from real performers!” Among the special guest musicians this year are Martha Spencer (E&H Class of ’07), Carson Peters, Dr. Mark Handy (E&H ’86), Presley Barker, and Jerry Castle (who’s mom is an E&H alum, former Abingdon Mayor Cathy Lowe, Class of ’12).

The event is set for Tuesday May 4, tickets are only $20, and you can get a ticket by calling the Barter Box Office at 276-628-3991. You can hear more about the Rotary Frolics in a conversation with Mark Graham archived with WEHC-FM.

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