‘His impact on our community is quite powerful:’ Theatre community mourns the loss of Tony Rivenbark
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Tony Rivenbark was a legendary figure in the Wilmington area, especially in the performing arts community. He passed away early Tuesday morning at Lower Cape Fear Hospice.
Those who were close to him say he left behind an impact that is too large to measure.
“His presence will be felt by our community for a very, very long time,” said friend and co-worker Shane Fernando. “In terms of our cultural experiences here in the region, to preservation here in the region, his fingerprints are all over the place. And so we’ll definitely be seeing and feeling him around us for a while.”
Fernando considered Rivenbark one of his closest friends, and said they did almost everything together. He says he’s heartbroken that he will no longer be around, but says it’s a once in a lifetime chance to experience that type of impact.
“Some people have, you know, have asked, what a loss for our community and I turn it around,” he said. “What a blessing that we had Tony here leading the trajectory for cultural life in this region for the past four plus decades. That’s incredible. It’s incredible to have that leadership, very rare”.”
Rivenbark was both the Executive Director and Artistic Director of Historic Thalian Hall. He was in the position for over 40 years. He was in charge of many renovations of the theatre to keep up with others across the country. This led to Wilmington being put on the map as a theatre community.
“He will be missed by not only the people who are part of community now but everyone who’s kind of grown up like myself and moved on,” said Erin Sullivan-Wertz of the Wilson Center. ”He’s made such an impact on a lot of lives.”
Former Mayor of Wilmington Hamilton Hicks had nothing praise for Rivenbark. In a statement to WECT, he says:
“Tony’s tremendous contributions to this community’s theatre started in the 70′s when he led the summertime five nights a week production of SRO. We had a group of 20 to 30 that met prior to the play and descended en mass to the small UNCW theatre for the play. Tony always said we were the highlight of the week and they got motivated for our attendance. I feel strongly that our support for SRO, based largely on his sterling performances , was the incubation for strong community support for local theatre .Also, his steady hand in running Thalian Hall was greatly appreciated by the City.”
From performing on the stage of Thalian Hall to improving the theatre as a whole, Rivenbark work with the theatre for over four decades. Fernando says those will be tough shoes to fill.
“This theater is so sophisticated, and that’s because of Tony,” he said. “So I think that’s something that’s very important, someone who has, you know, the appreciation, and, and the understanding of the past, but has that eye on the future and why in the future, because it’s for the community.”
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