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Drama threatens to upstage Thalian Association's milestone anniversary

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The Thalian Association celebrates its 225th anniversary this year, but the excitement is being upstaged by a real-life drama unfolding behind the scenes of the Official Community Theater of North Carolina.

The Thalian Association, which is not affiliated with Thalian Hall other than using the venue for many performances, recently decided to combine two artistic director jobs into one full-time position. The move will eliminate both Tom Briggs and Jason Aycock's positions leaving many in the theater community shaken up.

"It's upsetting to my soul," theater mom Teresa Loman said.

Loman says the decision brings tears to her eyes and makes her question the association's intentions.

"If something is working well, and if it is not broken why do we want to fix it," Loman said.

Anna Gamel, a six-year theater veteran, says she has Briggs to thank for introducing her to the stage.

"I feel like trying to consolidate these two part-time positions into one full-time will hurt both Thalian Association and (the Thalian Association Children's Theater)," Gamel said.

Both Briggs and Aycock did not want to comment, but many theater community members are taking the cue and speaking out.

"They have brought so much time and effort and support to this great theater community we have, and it's really sad what Thalian Association has done," Gamel said.

Gamel says the board is focusing more on the bottom line than center stage.

A nationwide search is now underway for a new artistic director to oversee the association's main stage and children's theater productions.

Thalian Association's Executive Director Susan Habas says she has encouraged both men to apply for the new position.

There is no word on when Aycock and Briggs will take their final bow or if they will apply for the new job.

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Request for meeting with the Thalian Association Board

The Following letter was delivered to the Thalian Association Board of directors on March 23 after a community meeting attended by 50 concerned citizens.

Dear Board Members of Thalian Association,

In light of the recent chasm between the existing board and the artists of the Thalian
Association, we are respectfully writing to all of you to request a compromise.

First and foremost, we want to express our gratitude to each one of you for your hard
work and commitment to our organization over the years. Your many contributions for
the good of the organization have certainly been appreciated.

The compromise we propose is to create a balance of members on the board. To avoid
future strife within Thalian Association, we feel the board should consist equally of
members with business expertise and of members with Thalian Association theatrical
experience and an arts background. Many in the Arts community feel the decision to
remove the only artistic input in the organization was made without the perspective of
qualified arts leadership. We request a hold on the search for a new artistic director until
such time as a balanced board may review the needs of this Arts driven organization. We
would like to work with you, the existing board, as a united community to create a
slate that would encompass that balance. We are hopeful that we can reveal to the
Wilmington community that Thalian Association is an organization that values all who
contribute and that we can work together for the good of the association.

Again, we thank you for your years of dedication and sincerely hope that we can arrange
a meeting this week where, together, as a united Thalian Association, we can discuss
creating a balanced business/artistic board and avoid any further strife.

Please reply to our email and let us know if we can work as a team.

We will look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Thalian Association Members and artists representing a positive change for Thalian
Association

Follow the money

If the Thalian Association didn't receive so much taxpayer money to support their organization, it would be silly to have a public outcry. But they do. I wonder if Susan Habas' Titan Cement connection have made the org feel less beholden to public funding, and so to the public. How much have they raked in so far from the titanic environmental threat to our region? Is anyone surprised that they are rotten to the core? They've become a lucrative business for a few key players, not a community theater company.

Me Thinks the Thespians Protest Too Much

Please! Calm your shrill, hysterical voices. Save what little vocal power you have for the . . . for the stage.

One artistic director of Thalian Association we shall have, and if the stage be littered with the corpses of our precious local talent (amateur), so be it.

The curtain will descend slowly, ever so slowly, on the tragic denouement.

And there will be a sustained STANDING OVATION from the few Wilmingtonians who appreciate quality productions of musical theatre and drama.

A new day will dawn! The tired talents of yesteryear will have the good sense to retire from the stage, and fresh theater people will come to town. Thalia, the Goddess of Theatre, will rejoice, as I and many more local theatre-lovers will rejoice along with her!

Sounds too familiar...

In my opinion, you sound like a member of the Thalian board. Please resign if you are... THE THESPIANS BEG YOU.

Too Seriouly

While it may be a bit dramatic to state that your soul is hurt, who is anyone else to say that it isn't so, or oughtn't be expressed? I find it cowardly to criticize others in anonymity. As far as taking things too seriously, when people within our community lose their jobs, are dehumanized and marginalized by those who were smiling at our sides only days earlier...Come on, say it with me... you are wrong. It is a very serious matter, indeed. It is precisely the point of the humanities...to teach us about ourselves and each other. It is the very serious nature of these events and fundamental differences in purpose that culminated in my resignation from The Thalian Association Board of Directors.
To those who are belittled or coerced: Your feelings are your own. No one has the right to say you shouldn't feel as you do, nor should they. Go right on. Say it as you mean it. Because we are the Community Theatre of North Carolina!!!
We are Thalian Association Community Theatre: Where Everybody Belongs!!!

Local Theater Productions

Although Wilmington has a lively theater scene, the productions most often have a whiff of "community theater" about them.

I think an artistic director is precisely what the Thalian Association needs to sharpen and refine its vision.

I'm happy to hear a "national search" is in progress. Casting and direction tend to be insular here in Wilmington, and the theater community a little too smug in their limited efforts.

Someone highly qualified and brought in from some other area of the country will fit Wilmington's theater bill to a T. A capital T.

An artistic director will bring a welcome breath of fresh air to Wilmington's stale offerings.

TheaterGoer's comments

Dear TheatreGoer,

It is hard to respond to you because you have neither the courage to use your actual name, nor give any specificity of opinion. Using broad brushstrokes of negative generalizations in anonymity provide no basis for meaningful dialogue. That being said, my guess is that we know each other through this "whiff" of community theatre of which you've spoken so poorly.To what I can respond: 1- One person performing both jobs Is not realistic outside a spreadsheet, if it truly even works out there. 2- How could hiring one person outside Wilmington satisfy you if its entire theatre community is smug and limited? 3- Anonymity is not invisibility, TheaterGoer.

Put the Community back in our Theater

Dear TheaterGoer,

I'm thrilled that you got a whiff of community theater here - because we ARE community theater. Have you read the rave reviews from the past few Thalian Association productions, witnessed the standing ovations, the loyalty and comradery that only come from exemplary leadership?

Did you realize we've been incredibly fortunate enough to somehow land a former Artistic Director of the storied St. Bart's Playhouse in NYC? Can you believe our community actually gets to work with an actual Broadway librettist? "Tom’s credits include the stage adaptation of STATE FAIR, the final Broadway musical produced by the legendary David Merrick; the stage adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA starring Eartha Kitt and Jamie-Lynn Sigler; and providing script continuity for THE MELODY LINGERS ON, an Irving Berlin revue."

Did you realize the Thalian Board decided to end that with apparently no input from the community it is charged with serving? Does it seem now that they're taking a defensive posture rather than opening up a conversation with the community and even entertaining the possibility that they acted in a manner not in the community's best interest?

So, Dear TheaterGoer, if you're whiffing something stale, something other than theater must be under your nose. Perhaps it's the stench of a politics over people attitude by the Thalian Board.

Open a public conversation, TA Board. Stand down from any arrogance or defensiveness and put the community before personal gain.

Thank you!

"the storied St. Bart's Playhouse in NYC ?"

"The storied St.Bart's Playhouse in NYC"? You mean the amateur group (The St Bart's Players) that stage productions in an Episcopal church? They're really good. They should be; they have a huge talent pool to tap into in NYC. As great as they are, they're also humble enough to realize that they're only small fish in a large pond compared to all of the other theater in that town.

This is Wilmington, which is essentially a small coastal Carolina city. No one expects it to have the same production qualities as those found in large urban environments because you'll never have the available talent pool. Even a good artistic director can only do so much with what's available. Wilmingtonians are OK with that. Many of us though are not OK with some of you pretending that it's more than what it is. You're getting caught up in your own hype.

The "storied" St Bart's Playhouse would never, ever refer to themselves in that manner. Some of you, in an effort to make yourselves feel more important here, would say stuff like that, but they never would themselves. Even though they are infinitely more talented, they would find that to be the height of pretension. It's time some of you learned a lesson from St Bart's and stopped being pretentious here. Keep pretending to be more than what you are and you'll just wind up making fools of yourselves (if you haven't done that already).

I'd rather be respected for not being perfect but having tried my best, than to have pretended I was much better than I really was. Do the latter, and others will accurately assess you as a jackass.

Standing Ovations

I have "witnessed the standing ovations," the obligatory standing ovations that are, for many in the audience, embarrassing.

No matter how execrable the performance, it is usually met with an obligatory standing ovation.

Totally agree

Sometimes l'odeur d' community theater is more than just a whiff; it's a palpable presence that permeates the productions.

It's great that Wilmington has a lively theater scene, but it is what it is. When some of the members of this little theater club start mouthing inane utterances like "It's upsetting to my soul", it becomes patently obvious that they're taking themselves way too seriously.

Theater Pretentiousness

To TheaterGoer and 8844:

Theater critics from the Star News are partially responsible for the level of amateurism in local theater productions. Nearly every review is positive. The critics bend over backwards to keep from hurting the feelings of some "local," who is under the influence of delusions of theatrical grandeur.

In a recent musical, an actor was praised for his "outstanding performance." The actor's singing voice was the kind you hear in high school productions--thin and without texture.

Theater in Wilmington is sometimes good, but often it is bad, and when it's bad the critics have an obligation to serve the theater public by stating the flaws in unambiguous language.

Local theater has needed new blood for some time now. I, for one, will welcome a new artistic director.

I would also welcome critics who are not afraid to be critical.

Totally disagree

I am astounded at the depth of reprehensibility that you show. The only whiff of something foul that I smell are from these comments. Do you not know love, or passion? If so, you'd understand the conviction and courage one must have to take the stage. These are more than just actors and actresses. Their husbands, wives, sons and daughters of our community. They deserve better.

Something to think about

Philip Seymour Hoffman, a truly brilliant actor and unfortunately also a flawed human being once said: "No one wants to be pretentious about what they do or take it seriously, because that is just weird."

Apparently, you are unfamiliar with that concept.

This community has some of

This community has some of the most top notch actors and actresses in the country; especially for its size. I would say it is mainly because of the film/tv industry. And what do you mean by stale offerings? There are over 50+ shows a year produced in this town. You couldn't find one that you enjoyed? What are your credentials to make these kinds of comments? You sound like you don't have a very educated opinion.

"Most top notch actors and actresses in the country" ?

Here in Wilmington? In local theater? Are you kidding me?

Especially for its size? Size has nothing to do with it; you're either the best or you're not.

Local theater's just fine in Wilmington but it is in no way a theatrical mecca, nor should it be expected to be.

Get over yourself.

Drama at the Thalian Association

I'm guessing there are some large donors to the group who aren't happy and have threatened to "take their ball and go home."

Guess Again

Dear Taxpayer,

Guess again. The people most effected and most upset are the folks in the trenches - the folks who are thrilled to work alongside talents the stature of Tom Briggs and Jason Aycock - the folks who see their tireless contributions, their inspirational attitudes!

No, taxpayer, the people upset are your friends and neighbors who are standing up because they've seen a great wrong and aren't going to stand idly by. You wouldn't stand idly by and do nothing, would you?

Thanks!

re: Guess Again

My wife and I attend productions at Thalian Hall regularly. I know some of the folks who play in the orchestra pit as well. My point was that somewhere, someone is ticked off and feels the need to consolidate the two positions into one.

I don't know Jason, but do know Tom and feel he does a great job.

Alas taxpayer ..... Thou art wrong and shouldst guess again !

Thee people most upsetee are ye folks in thee trenches. ... Are they not also ye friends and ye neighbors because they hath seen a great wrong? And hast they not standee by ye? Wouldst thou standee by and hath do nothing? Wouldst thou?

Oh, the humanity!

(Methinks thou doth protest too much. :-)

Thank ye

Wrong director?

I believe many share the opinion that the director which the Thalian Association REALLY needs to replace to strive for increased efficiency and professionalism is the director/manager of the Community Arts Center!!!