On The Town with Tony Rivenbark

published in Focus on the Coast April 2011
Quick-witted, funny, and at times, sharp tongued, Thalian Hall Executive Director Tony Rivenbark can easily fill an afternoon with tales of our fair city's coming of age. 

Tony and I at Deluxe
His own 1966 entrance originated at Wilmington College (now The University of North Carolina at Wilmington) where he noticed a casting call for a 1920s musical downtown. 

"Back then Thalian Hall was almost a secret," Tony said, "I went to the audition just to see what it would be like and was blown away. The interior belonged to another time. The second day, the building drew me back. I ended up auditioning and was cast in the show as a dancer. On the first line on my audition sheet I wrote, 'I do a mean Charleston!'"

After graduating you left for Chapel Hill and later New York?

"I ended up producing an off-Broadway show with Beth Grant about Pentecostal snake handlers. I kept the snakes and ended up remodeling the entire theater. But even then, every summer I came back to Wilmington for Summer Stock Theater until 1979 when I accepted the job as manager."

How were the first few years managing Thalian Hall?

"I took the job wanting a functional theater as I understood as an actor and technician. We had four shows a year, no box office and thirteen lighting instruments. I spent a lot of time reading through old files and walking around the building just looking. At some point it became clear that in order to fix things up, more people were going to have to use her."

Over the past few decades Wilmington blossomed. How did Thalian fit into this renaissance?

"For years I had been involved in the League of Historic American Theaters and would visit other cities where renovated historic theaters had a positive influence on their communities. I was able to bring that information back. Back then nobody went to City Council meetings. They didn't have adequate facilities. In 1982, I proposed a renovation that would serve both City Hall and the theater, which made it easier for the community to invest in, resulting in the new glass entrance in 1990. We wanted Thalian to be about more than just putting on a show. It had to be something the whole community could use. The most recent restoration, completed last year, is a validation of twenty successful years."

Have you reached your goal?

"My ultimate vision for Thalian is a museo civico or museum of civic history. I want a place with a mixture of art, history and architecture which honors the people who made this area special."

What do you do to unwind?

"This year I plan to see the NASCAR of Theater, Spiderman."

Didn't a lot of people get hurt during the early rehearsals?

"That's why it's the NASCAR of theater because there's an element of danger. People are flying all around the stage and could die. I almost did once when I played Peter Pan and forgot to put on my harness. Captain Hook nearly ran me through with his sword!"