Originally published in encore magazine, August 16, 2016.
In the spring, Thalian Association had a sudden changeover with the release of David Loudermilk as artistic director for its adult and youth theatre programs. The organization noted artistic differences between the board and its director. Since, Chandler Davis has been hired to oversee the association, and Loudermilk moved on to Jacksonville, Florida, to become the musical theatre director for Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. However, the ink from Loudermilk’s stamp on the local theatre community hasn’t dried up quite yet. A group of his close theatre friends and colleagues has launched Second Star Theatre Company and honored Loudermilk as founding artistic director emeritus.
“There is a legacy that David created in this community in terms of education and performance from his years with Cape Fear Academy and the Thalian Association, and it was important for us to keep that alive,” says Second Star president Adrian Varnam—a local musician who has played in numerous musicals in Wilmington. “There are hundreds of kids, parents and performers whose lives are better for having worked and learned from David, and it was part of our founding vision to have him continue that here as part of Second Star.”
The company even took its name from one of Loudermilk’s favorite lyrics from “Peter Pan”—a show he directed for Thalian Association in 2014: “Each time we say, ‘Goodnight’/We’ll thank the little star that shines/The second from the right.”
Other board members for Second Star include many with whom Loudermilk has worked throughout the years: vice president Jennifer Marshall Roden, secretary LaRaisha Burnette, interim treasurer Jen Iapalucci, youth representative Izzy Gorden, as well as Amanda Hunter, Michael O’Connell, Lise Gorden, Brendan Carter, and Mark Deese. Each member has experience in the arts and business fields in some way or another. In fact, Second Star is putting emphasis on fostering relationships between the creative-minded and business-minded alike in order to balance leadership.
“Our founding members are actors, musicians, music directors, choreographers, theater technicians, teachers, an attorney, a bookkeeper, small-business owners, and active community members of all ages,” Varnam explains. “It’s not an easy marriage—arts and business—but it’s the system we have to work with if the arts world keeps pushing a nonprofit business model as the standard.”
Varnam is clear the launching of Second Star isn’t a reactionary protest against Loudermilk’s firing from the association. Actually, many of the folks involved with Second Star still work with the Thalians. Rather, it has inspired more advocacy in marrying education and community outreach with theatre. “Our goal is to provide anyone interested in theatre the opportunity to learn and grow as musicians, actors, singers, stage managers, directors, etc.,” vice president Roden notes.
Second Star has announced their first show, “FAME,” to be directed by youth representative Gorden in November and December, held at the Garage at DREAMS of Wilmington. Auditions for character roles will be held Oct. 1 and dancers will be cast Oct. 2. The entire cast, crew and orchestra will consist of teens, ages 15-19.
“This will be the first in a flagship teen production program to allow youth to step into leadership and starring roles that they may not have had opportunity for prior,” Gorden says.
All the teen productions will be overseen 100 percent by youth—from tech to light design, direction to cast—regardless of experience. Second Star will institute workshops and a mentorship program to allow teens up close and personal learning experiences and guidance from professional adults within the field. “For instance, first-time choreographer Maggie Stone will be working with the amazing Laura Brogden-Primavera to blend unique styles accessible for teens [in ‘FAME’],” Gorden explains.
Second Star will host two full-length shows during the year, in the fall and spring, plus a three-week workshop-style show in the summer. Youth camps will be available for ages 6-13. As well, the company is considering slots for original work, staged readings and parlor performances.
Secretary Burnette—a local actress and singer who won StarNews’ 2016 Best Actress in a Play for her role as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a Thalian Association show directed by Loudermilk—wants to create a more symbiotic relationship between theatre companies. In doing so, it could bring a greater roster of shows to the Wilmington area, diverse enough to keep audiences and the companies alike entertained and successful.
“We would like to establish a biannual booking meeting with the other companies in town to plan diverse content offering in all of our seasons and work on community-wide objectives together,” she says.
Varnam is especially interested in making sure the company creates welcoming, supportive dialogue about issues that continue to surround the active theatre community. Hosting talks and workshops on art vs. business or how local actors get paid little to nothing for productions for weeks of commitment at a time are on his radar. One of the first tenets of Second Star is to pay its contributors when possible.
“It’s very important to us that everyone involved in our company and productions know their value and are rewarded,” Varnam tells. “I know these questions have been raised in the past, but why isn’t there a truly professional theatre company that follow the practices of the Actors Equity Association? Why do we have such a small number of qualified technicians to run sound or lighting design? Why aren’t there mentorships or apprenticeships in place to solve these issues? Why isn’t there more diversity or outreach in our larger community?”
Second Star launched a crowdsourcing platform to help reach its goal of $15,000 to see through its first production. Folks can donate for as little as $25 and become founding members. Youth under 18 get free memberships for volunteering a certain number of hours with the company.
“Purchasing script rights and leasing a theater costs money, depending upon the show and the number of performances,” board member O’Connell says. “We need lots of founding members and memberships, and hopefully some bigger donors and sponsors to get us off the ground and soaring.”
On Saturday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., Second Star will hold a launch party at O’Connell’s home in Carolina Heights. With an open bar and hors d’oeuvre served, the party welcomes corporate and personal donations. There will be performances from Second Star’s first season of productions, and they will announce the full roster of shows planned in the upcoming year.
“We are hoping everyone who loves theatre and supports community theatre will join us to learn/experience what we our about, and hopefully make our vision and dream reality by becoming a member or a more generous donor,” O’Connell notes.
For more information about Second Star, visit their website, secondstartheatre.org, or Facebook page. Their crowdsourcing page can be accessed at https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/the-founding-of-second-star-theatre-company/x/14524859.