Who’s Who in a city justly famous for outstanding Theater Companies
By Nicholas Gray
Thalian Association (est. 1788)
Established in 1788, Thalian Association is the official community theater of North Carolina, annually producing more shows than any other, mostly old favorites and children’s theater (TACT), but recently some small-cast plays at the Red Barn. Often confused with our mainstay venue Thalian Hall, many locals don’t know the two entities are not one in the same. What’s up next? Barefoot in the Park (March) and The Lyons (June) at Red Barn, 1122 S. 3rd St., Gypsy (March 30-April 9), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (May 18-28), Young Frankenstein (Oct.), and A Christmas Story, The Musical (Dec.) at Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St. Mr. Roberts (July 4-23) on the USS Battleship N.C.
UNCW Department of Theatre (est. 1959)
If you’re not part of the university, you may not know them, but you should want to. UNCW consistently offers more sheer production value than any other. Costumes, set, lights — they’ve got it all! And though guided by mentors, we have the students to thank for it. What’s up next? The Children’s Hour (March 30-April 9), Cultural Arts Building, UNCW, 601 South College Road. www.uncw.edu/theatre
Willis Richardson Players (est. 1974)
Named for the historic Harlem Renaissance playwright from Wilmington, the African-American theater company (led for many years by Lela Thompson) has brought us shows about black experience (Ain’t Misbehavin, A Raisin in the Sun). Look for upcoming productions at wrpwilm.wordpress.com
Opera House Theatre Company (est. 1985)
Known for its big names: the late Lou Criscuolo, who faithfully served our city for decades as artistic director (now helmed by Alice Sherwood), and Ray Kennedy, the die-hard director, OHTC brings us spectacle after spectacle. What’s up next? Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (March 1-12), Jesus Christ Superstar (June 7-25), Camelot (July 5-23), South Pacific (Aug. 2-20), Peter and the Starcatcher (Aug. 30-Sept. 10). Thalian Hall. www.operahousetheatrecompany.net
Big Dawg Productions (est. 1995)
Unless you are one of the committed season patrons, it’s likely the buzz you’ve heard is about their original production, The Hermit of Fort Fisher, by David Wright. One of the only remaining companies that doesn’t opt for big name musicals, their dedication to the straight play (both in classic and bold form) is certainly worth the affordable ticket price. What’s up next? The Last Encampment (March 23-April 6), Over the River and Through the Woods (April 27-May 14), The Laramie Project (June 8-25), Twelve Angry Men (Aug. 3-20), The Hermit of Fort Fisher (Sept. 7-24), The Dining Room (Nov. 2-19). Performs at Cape Fear Playhouse, 613 Castle St. www.bigdawgproductions.org
Cape Fear Theatre Arts (est. 2010)
Known for their consistently spectacular New Year’s Eve gala productions (Memphis, Sister Act) with New York talent, we wish they’d do more. Former head honchos of the old City Stage at Level 5, Justin Smith and Chiaki Ito, are the “power couple” at work. Will there be something before 2018? Maybe, they say. www.citystagenc.com
TheatreNOW (est. 2012)
A bit off the downtown beaten path, TheatreNOW marked our map with dinner theater, a proven welcome commodity. Most producers wouldn’t drop their dimes on original scripts from local writers, but Alisa Harris and Zach Hanner buy local. Look out for plays from Salt contributors Clyde Edgerton and Celia Rivenbark.
What’s up next? Shamrock Holmes (through March 25), Killer Diller (March 31-April 29), The Cemetery Club (May 5-27), The Best of Celia (June 2-July 22), The Picture of Dorian Gray (July 28-Aug. 26), Two Trains Running (Sept. 1-30), TheaTerror (Oct. 6-31), We Can Be Heroes (Nov. 3-18), The Greatest Gift (Nov. 24-Dec. 23). TheatreNow, 19 South 10th Street. www.theatrewilmington.com
Dram Tree Shakespeare (est. 2015)
Making quite the impression with MacBeth and The Tempest mounted in the non-traditional theater space of McEachern’s Warehouse, Dram Tree succeeded with two of the most engaging non-musical productions in years. By taking risks to introduce us to an immersive brand of theater and bringing in nationally acclaimed guest directors, though new to the fold, they are a welcome addition.
What’s up next? The Comedy of Errors (April 13-30), directed by Philadelphia-based director KC MacMillan. Performs at DREAMS Garage, 901 Fanning St. www.dramtreeshakes.org
Panache Theatrical Productions (est. 2015)
After the tradition of SantaLand Diaries was broken at City Stage, Panache brought it back to great applause two years running. With the past year’s exeunt of both City Stage Co. and The Browncoat Pub & Theatre, there’s a particular void available for theater on-the-edge in Wilmington, and these guys seemed perfectly poised to fill it.
What’s up next? Heathers – The Musical (March 16-April 2; Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre at Thalian Hall) www.panachetheatre.com
Thalian Hall Cube Theatre (est. 2015)
A somewhat under-the-radar little company, spearheaded by Thalian Hall director Tony Rivenbark and Shane Fernando, has produced mini-masterpieces in the Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre at Thalian Hall (The Fantasticks, It’s Only A Play). This small stage brags high production value, particularly in set design by Gary Smith.
What’s up next? Deathtrap (May 11–28). Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre at Thalian Hall
For info: www.thalianhall.org/livetheatre
On the rise: Techmoja Dance and Theater Co., Second Star, Theatre for All, and Brunswick Little Theater.
Nicholas Gray is the former artistic director of City Stage Co.