Tony Rivenbark, Executive and Artistic Director for Thalian Hall, dies

Tony Rivenbark, Executive and Artistic Director for Thalian Hall, dies
Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 2:43 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The man whose name was synonymous with Thalian Hall has died. Tony Rivenbark passed away early Tuesday morning at Lower Cape Fear Hospice.

Rivenbark was named the first executive director of Thalian Hall in 1980. The title of artistic director was added a few years ago. Rivenbark would have celebrated 43 years at Thalian Hall in September.

Shane Fernando, Executive Director of the Wilson Center was a close personal friend of Rivenbark’s. He credits the iconic theatre director for helping to carve his path in the entertainment industry.

“Tony was a dear friend and mentor,“ Fernando said. “It’s been an immense privilege to have known him since I was a child. While I am heartbroken that he is physically gone, he will continue to still be with us in many ways. His impact on our region in the arts and preservation runs deep and we are all beneficiaries of his life’s work.”

The City of Wilmington will recognize Rivenbark during tonight’s city council meeting. In addition, starting tonight through Saturday, Thalian Hall, the Wilson Center, Kenan Auditorium, and the Meadowlark Lemon Bridge will be lit in purple as a tribute to Rivenbark. The League of Historic American Theatres also is requesting that all historic theatres across the country do the same.

Rivenbark was the author of the theatre essay in Time Talent and Tradition published by the Cape Fear Museum in 1990. His photographic history, Images of America Thalian Hall, was published by Arcadia Press in 2015. His most recent work is an essay on Thalian Hall, “The Theatre That Never Got Finished” that was recently published in the book Theatre Architecture by the Theatre Library Association at Lincoln Center in New York.

He was awarded Wilmington’s Lifetime Achievement for the Arts in 2004. He was a member of the Board of the League of Historic American Theatre and was the second recipient of the LHAT Individual Award in 2005. In 2014 at the Wilmington Theatre Awards, he was the recipient of the Most Enduring Contribution to Wilmington Theatre. In 2019, he received the Star News Lifetime Achievement Award, and most recently was awarded the Thomas and Elizabeth Wright Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Historic Wilmington Foundation, recognizing lifelong dedication to historic preservation in Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear region.

The Thalian Association Community Theatre, which has produced shows at Thalian Hall, honored Rivenbark’s contributions in the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

Thalian Association Community Theatre mourns the loss of a Wilmington Community legend, Tony Rivenbark. Tony was a prolific writer, director, and actor as well as the Executive Director of Thalian Hall. For over 40 years Tony dedicated his life to preserving the historic theatre and overseeing multiple renovations and expansions. Tony has been instrumental in cultivating the arts scene in Wilmington and providing artistic opportunities to national and local arts groups. There will never be another such as Tony Rivenbark and Thalian Association Community Theatre is grateful for all he did for the community.

No details have been released on funeral services or a celebration of life. Rivenbark was 74.

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