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Triad Stage lays plans to reopen, but no date set for the Greensboro theater
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Triad Stage lays plans to reopen, but no date set for the Greensboro theater

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GREENSBORO — The downtown storefront of Triad Stage remains dark, a reflection of its temporary hiatus.

But a ghost light illuminates the stage inside its Pyrle Theater, a sign of hope and anticipation for its next live performance.

When that will be, leaders of the nonprofit professional theater aren’t ready to say.

Behind the scenes, they go through a comprehensive planning process with the aid of a consultant.

As they make plans amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, they say that reopening will happen.

“I think an announcement of intentions in late fall is a reasonable expectation,” said Lynn Wooten, a member of the Triad Stage board of trustees.

Leaders of the 300-seat theater at 232 S. Elm St. face a double whammy: the pandemic and the departure of its two founders in 2019 and 2020.

As the pandemic eased this summer, several local arts presenters — the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, Community Theatre of Greensboro, Carolina Theatre and the Greensboro Symphony among them — announced dates for upcoming shows. No changes have been announced to date with the virus’ resurgence.

Not Triad Stage.

That left current and future audiences of Triad Stage wondering what plays they will see, and when they will see them.

Triad Stage leaders ask for patience.

“It has been a time of unprecedented challenges,” said Deborah Hayes, who chairs the board of trustees.

“But it has also given us an unprecedented opportunity to look at the entire organization and to bring fresh eyes and fresh voices and new ideas to bear on what we want to be on the other side of this,” Hayes said.

Hayes and Wooten recently outlined steps in a Zoom interview. They were joined by Triad Stage staffers Sarah Hankins, interim artistic director and learning director, and Katie O’Kelly, director of operations and production.

Board and staff recently emailed 28,000 supporters, outlining progress and planning to date.

“We hope that we can count on your continued support as we keep our eye on producing the remaining two plays of Season 19 and returning, reinvigorated, to offer you an exciting Season 20,” the letter said.

Its board has formed a 15-member planning committee led by Donna Bradby, an actor and director who teaches in N.C. A&T’s theater arts program.

Members include board members, educators, business leaders and theatrical artists.

They plan with the help of arts consultant John McCann of Partners in Performance in Durham. He was hired to help plan for reopening and re-imagining the next 20 years for Triad Stage, Hayes said.

The planning committee invited people to volunteer to become part of the information-gathering process.

First, it will conduct interviews with about 15 people affiliated with Triad Stage or people that it wants to get to know better.

It then will form five listening groups of 15 to 25 people each, including ticket-holders and potential arts consumers, “so we get a wide cross-section of folks who are interested in having a voice in what happens next with the theater,” Hayes said.

The consultant “has really kind of helped us ask the right questions and to make sure that we are talking to as diverse a constituency as we can,” Hayes said.

Triad Stage expects to finish its planning process later in the fall, “when we expect to have more clarity about where we go from there,” Hayes said.

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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. It opened in January 2002.

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

Like other arts organizations worldwide, Triad Stage shut down live productions in March 2020 as the pandemic hit. Two plays remained in that 19th season: “Pride and Prejudice” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”

It did not produce its 20th season of announced plays in 2020-21, among them Mike Wiley’s original play “Rebellious,” about the women of the Greensboro sit-in movement.

It switched to online play readings by female playwrights and playwrights of color, virtual competitions for Poetry Out Load and the August Wilson Monologue Competition.

Then, in November 2020, Lane resigned.

An article published by Triad City Beat, an alternative weekly, reported that some UNCG male theater alumni accused Lane of sexual abuse — allegations that Lane has denied.

They said that the alleged incidents occurred while they were students at UNCG, where Lane taught acting and directing part-time until December 2019.

Now Hankins and O’Kelly are Triad Stage’s only full-time employees. They joined the board of trustees in the letter to supporters.

Responses to the letter have been “overwhelmingly positive,” Hayes said.

Triad Stage has received about $1 million in COVID-19-related assistance to sustain operations and help with reopening, Hayes said.

That process of reopening, the letter said, includes renegotiating arrangements with theatrical unions at a time when they focus on reopening Broadway and Broadway tours.

Production rights must be secured on a new schedule.

Upcoming plays have not been announced. But the 20th season schedule is expected to include “Rebellious,” the letter indicated.

Next steps will include recruiting and auditioning actors and crew, and resuming design work.

It also means “creating a work environment that allows all staff and artists to feel safe and that allows creativity to thrive, while navigating the theatrical industry’s continuously-evolving ‘new normal.’”

It’s also assessing upgrades to its physical space, but won’t change the capacity, Hayes said.

To Wooten, “Triad Stage has held a very special place for Greensboro for a long time. Like all other arts groups, we have been faced with challenges that have resulted in pivots and changes and updates. In that respect, we are in very good company.”

The current behind-the-scenes work, Wooten added, “will result in something that is very appealing to our supporters. And we hope to gain many new supporters as a result of the work we’re doing.”

As the play schedule settles, Triad Stage will contact ticket-holders to transfer tickets to new production dates, the letter said.

Ticketholders unable to attend rescheduled performances can donate their tickets to Triad Stage, or receive a credit or refund, Hayes said.

Lynn and Scott Brogan have been season subscribers since the beginning.

They were glad to receive the email and the update, Lynn Brogan said.

They had renewed their subscription for the 2020-21 season, and won’t seek a refund, she said.

“We felt, just stick it out,” she said. “We know we’ve got our tickets and when they open back up, we’ll be right there.”

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

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