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Retired Greensboro theater leader to temporarily manage Triad Stage

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Mitchel Sommers, former executive director of Community Theatre of Greensboro, will serve as interim executive director of Triad Stage. In this 2014 photo, Sommers is pictured at the Starr Theatre during his 25th year leading CTG.

GREENSBORO — The new interim executive director of Triad Stage is a familiar face on the local theater scene.

Mitchel Sommers, retired executive director of Community Theatre of Greensboro, will oversee Triad Stage for about four months as it prepares to reopen.

The regional, nonprofit professional theater at 232 S. Elm St. announced in June that it will return to life for its 20th season on Oct. 4 with three plays, two concerts, a workshop and an effort to foster new, experimental work.

It will reopen after a more than two-year production pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden departure of its artistic director.

After being hired by Triad Stage leaders, Sommers started his temporary post this week.

“I enjoy being a mentor at this point and sharing my life experiences and knowledge,” Sommers said in a phone interview. “I feel I can help them that way. I was excited also for myself personally, that I feel I’m still vibrant and feel I still want to play a role in the arts community.”

It’s the first time that Sommers has run a theater with equity actors.

For more than 27 years, Sommers ran CTG, a nonprofit community theater company just three blocks away at 520 S. Elm St.

Now 69, he teaches an acting class at Elon University, directs CTG’s annual production of “The Wizard of Oz” and serves as cantorial soloist at Temple Emanuel.

Sommers is not seeking the permanent post of Triad Stage executive director.

“I think I will serve Triad Stage better and the arts community better by helping them find a younger, talented person that I could help become a successful executive director,” Sommers said.

He will serve for about four months, until Triad Stage fills the job permanently, said Sarah Saint, who co-chairs its volunteer Board of Trustees with Deborah Hayes and Cassandra Williams.

Triad Stage leaders announced in June that its new MainStage season of plays will open with the world premiere of “Rebellious” by Triangle playwright Mike Wiley. It follows four Bennett Belles through the sit-in movement.

In addition to the comic plays “The Revolutionists” and “The Cake,” Triad Stage will present a holiday concert and a Valentine’s cabaret.

It will present “Jekyll,” a workshop of a new female-focused contemporary adaptation of the gothic classic.

In spring 2023, it will present a creativity lab, providing space and production support to a smaller organization doing a project experimenting with form or giving voice to underrepresented communities.

“We have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of support for our upcoming season,” Saint said. “We want to make sure that we have person-power in place to make sure that we are able to put it on.”

Sommers, Saint said, “is a proven leader in our arts community. He is a shepherd of good art. He is a beacon of fiscal responsibility. He has proven that in running CTG. And he is an avid proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion ideals.”

“These are all things that Triad Stage is committed to being, in addition to being a professional theater company that puts on top-notch productions,” Saint added. “We are really excited to see how Mitchel helps us live up to that commitment.”

Sommers also knows how to manage inside an old, historic downtown building, Saint said.

For now, Sommers will join five other staff members at Triad Stage, including new Artistic Director Sarah Hankins.

Sommers will help Triad Stage find the right people to fill remaining staff roles, Saint said. Its website advertises for executive director, director of production and facilities, technical director and director of marketing and sales.

In the meantime, Saint said, Triad Stage will look for an executive director with professional theater experience; who is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and access, and who is “motivated by the creativity that Sarah Hankins has put forth in our upcoming season.”

Triad Stage took root in 1998 when Yale graduates Preston Lane and Richard Whittington came to Greensboro to start a nonprofit professional theater downtown.

They raised more than $5 million and turned the former Montgomery Ward department store into home base for Triad Stage, with its 300-seat Pyrle Theatre and UpStage Cabaret upstairs. It opened in January 2002.

Through 2019, Triad Stage produced classical plays by renowned playwrights, as well as original productions written by Lane with music by singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett. North Carolina and New York actors filled the casts.

Whittington left in June 2019, to spend more time with his family. He’s now associate vice chancellor for advancement at UNC School of the Arts.

In March 2020, the theater shut down as the pandemic hit.

Then in November 2020, Lane resigned amid allegations that some UNCG male theater alumni accused him of sexual abuse — allegations that Lane has denied.

They said that the alleged abuse occurred while they were students at UNCG, where Lane had taught part-time until December 2019.

No criminal charges or civil lawsuits have been filed in Guilford County.

Triad Stage staff and board members engaged in reorganization and reflection.

Sommers said that he was surprised when he received a call in late May from Triad Stage board member Donna Bradby. She asked whether he would talk with board leaders about becoming the interim executive director.

So he did.

Last month, he accepted Triad Stage’s offer via Zoom — while recovering from COVID-19 during a visit to Dubai.

When Sommers ran CTG and worked hard to raise money, he admits, he felt resentment toward Triad Stage.

“I felt that they lived beyond their means,” he said. “It always had to be the best seats and the best costumes and the best this and the best that. There was always another mini-capital campaign to pay for all that...”

“You always live beneath your means so you always have the ability to pay for everything,” he said.

“I liked their work just fine, and it was a beautiful facility,” Sommers added. “But that part of it always rubbed me wrong.”

Those past feelings won’t hurt his performance at Triad Stage, he said.

“They are at a place now where they are going to be rehiring and restructuring,” he said. “I’m really hoping I can help them bring on enough staff to be successful and do what needs to be done, but that it’s not an excessive staff and doesn’t put an extra burden financially on the organization.”

Triad Stage knows about Sommers’ past feelings about Triad Stage, Saint said.

“For us, the past is the past,” Saint said. “We are focused on the future.”

“He has a lot of incredible qualities that I think will be useful and vital to the success of Triad Stage during this interim period,” Saint said.

“The fact that he accepted the position,” Saint said, “shows that an arts leader who maybe had criticisms of Triad Stage in the past now sees that we are reemerging as the Triad Stage we say we want to be, and the Triad Stage that we are now.”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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