Good Hope schoolhouse will soon become home of theater

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Staff Reporter

NORCO — Nestled in the pipe-laden landscape of the industrial sprawl of the Valero oil refinery on River Road in St. Charles Parish sits the depression-era Good Hope schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse is the only remaining vestige of what was formerly the town of Good Hope, and is the unlikely home of the River Region Performing Arts and Cultural Center.

The River Region Drama Guild, Inc. and the River Region Ballet, Inc. have been based in the former schoolhouse since 1998 when the St. Charles school board granted the non-profit organizations a 50-year lease on the property for $100 per year. That may seem like a steal, but the property was in poor condition and is the scene of costly constant battle against termites. To date the center has spent over $200,0000 in renovation and improvements to the center.

The biggest improvement to the property is the warehouse built in 2004 with a $20,000 donation from Dow Chemical covering almost a quarter of the cost.

The center receives funding from United Way and three to four performing arts grants per year, but they ask the community for funding and are on a constant lookout for donated props and vintage clothing, especially antique hats.

Henry Sorbet is the only remaining founding member of the Drama Guild and the main progenitor behind founding the Center.

Sorbet has been with the group since 1990, when it was called the St. Charles Theater and was run out of the East Bank Library in Norco. He is now managing director of the center and only in recent years has started to receive a small salary in exchange for the eight hours he averages per week in addition to his full time professional day job as a Technology Manager.

“Running this type of business I thought I would never do,” said Sorbet who holds an MBA. “You do left brain work all day and then right brain work at night.”

The Drama Guild has put on 30 productions in all, starting with “The King and I,” their anniversary show that first played in 1990, then 2000 and is getting ready to be reprised for the 2010 season.

The Ballet has put on 36 productions, including the annual favorite “The Nutcracker.”

Most of the productions are held at the auditorium in Destrehan High School, which the center regularly rents for approximately $10,000 per year. At this annual rate it is not surprising Sorbet is looking into building a theater on the Good Hope property.

“Our goal is to build a 6000 square foot theater,” said Sorbet.

He estimates it would cost at least $300,000 to build the theater, and is reluctant to start the fundraising process in the face of such a daunting task.

This year the Drama Guild is planning one of their most elaborate performances, “The Beauty and the Beast.”

The production is set to be directed by professional actor and River Region Drama Guild veteran Chris Malone. Open auditions are tentatively set for the end of March or beginning of April.

The center holds acting and dance workshops regularly for children and just held their first workshop for adults recently.

More information on the River Region Cultural Center can be found at or by calling (504) 904-1129.