S T A G E L I F E The Association had a perpetual lease on Thalian Hall when it opened in 1858, but by 1860, the opulent theater had already exhausted the resources of the small theater group. The then-Thalian Association President Donald MacRae signed full ownership of the building to the city of Wilmington, which was accepted by the mayor of the city, Donald’s brother, John MacRae, on June 21, 1860. Habas points out that that legacy continues into the modern era. Thalian Association in its current incarnation reorganized in 1929 after a lapse, and in 1930, Mrs. Hugh MacRae became president of the Thalians, the granddaughter-in-law to Donald MacRae. Her successor was Robert Cowan DeRosset, the grandson of old Thalian supporter, Robert H. Cowan. “This community has embraced the cultural arts, performing arts and arts education since the very beginning,” Habas says. “We are so proud to carry that legacy forward.” When it comes to arts advocacy and the preservation of tradition, Thalian’s management of the Hannah Block Historic USO Community Arts Center for the last two decades is evidence of a dedication to the legacy they have inherited. So if you happen to have a theater that needs love, care and devotion, Thalian Association has a track record of providing TLC to a historic building and fostering artistic achievement there. Lavin and Bakunas offered the Thalians a three-year rent-free lease on the property and the use of the brand new $20,000 lighting system that had been purchased for the Red Barn and packed up when the fate of the theater was in the air. When I visited at the beginning of September, new risers were being built in the fifty-seat audience area and chairs had been
delivered. “Lance Howell’s TACT Academy classes, ‘Getting Technical’ and ‘Stage Craft,’ are going to be held here,” says Habas, grinning with anticipation. Her smile is so evocative that I can almost hear children laughing. The major purpose for the Red Barn seems to be to expand the Children’s Theatre offerings of the TACT Academy classes and TACT Showcase, plus five musicals TACT produces a year. Habas looks off in the distance. “Steve and Linda have left the magic of fabulous theater in here,” she says. “You can almost feel it in the walls.” In the 1990s, Thalian Association produced a summer season of smaller shows in the Studio Theater of Thalian Hall. The summer shows would typically be straight plays aimed at smaller audiences in contrast to the big musicals Thalian produced on the main stage. Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon, and Arthur Miller would be typical fare. “Yes,” Habas confirms, “we have plans to bring that back and produce a smaller summer season here.” On November 1, the Red Barn will present Other Desert Cities as its inaugural show — the perfect symbol for the newly reopened Red Barn. After all, Linda Lavin was in the original Off-Broadway cast of the show in 2011. It sort of brings the legacy of Lavin and Bakunas into the present with Thalian Association as they join hands to walk into the future. Other Desert Cities plays Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 1–24, 2013, at The Red Barn Studio Theatre, corner of Third and Marstellar streets. b Gwenyfar Rohler fell in love with theater at Thalian Hall on her sixth birthday. She spends her days managing her family’s bookstore on Front Street.
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