June 27--Actress Linda Lavin has leased the Red Barn Studio Theatre in Wilmington to The Thalian Association.
Under an agreement announced Thursday, Lavin and husband Steve Bakunas will lease the 50-seat theater at 1122 S. Third St. to the historic community theater group for three years, rent-free.
Susan Habas, the Thalians' managing director, said her group plans to use the building to construct sets and hold classes for its Thalian Association Children's Theater.
The Thalians will also consider staging a summer theater season at the Red Barn and will look at renting the facility.
"We're staying open to all possibilities," Habas said.
In the meantime, the group will continue to manage the Community Arts Center and Hannah Block Historic USO at 120 S. Second St. for the city of Wilmington and will keep its offices there. Habas said the Thalians will continue to mount five main stage shows each year at Thalian Hall, the historic downtown theater in City Hall.
In a prepared statement, Hank Miller, president of the Thalians' board of directors, thanked Bakunas and Lavin.
"Having a place to call our own is vital to our growth and our ability to expand both our adult and children's theater programs," Miller said.
"We're happy it's going to continue on as a theater," Bakunas said in a phone interview Thursday.
Bakunas remembered working with youngsters in the neighborhood and said he was happy the Red Barn will be used for children's theater.
Famed as the star of the long-running CBS comedy series "Alice," Lavin moved to Wilmington shortly after acting in the locally filmed TV movie "Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden" in 1995. The actress based her production company here and commuted between Wilmington and New York stage roles. During her stay, she picked up Tony Award nominations for roles in "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1998) and "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" (2001).
Lavin and Bakunas bought and renovated the South Third Street building not far from their downtown home and in 2007 launched the Red Barn Studio Theatre, staging complex dramas and comedies by such contemporary American playwrights as David Mamet, Alfred Uhry and John Patrick Shanley. A Tony Award winner (best actress in a play in 1987 for "Broadway Bound"), Lavin often starred in productions, taking the title role in "Driving Miss Daisy." She also played the college professor and writer Ruth Steiner in "Collected Stories" before taking the role to Broadway, where she was nominated for another Tony in 2010.
The Red Barn closed last year, after Bakunas and Lavin, who had just taken a role in the NBC comedy "Sean Saves the World," announced they were selling their Wilmington home and moving to upstate New York. The couple still owns property in the area.
An earlier plan to pass the building on to the Imaginary Theatre company fell through due to funding issues. Lavin and Bakunas had offered to donate the theater to Cape Fear Community College, but their offer was declined.
The Thalian Association traces its roots to an amateur theatrical troupe formed in Wilmington in 1788. (Its name comes from Thalia, the Greek muse of comedy.) The group lapsed and reorganized several times and has been in continuous existence since 1929, making it the oldest community theater group in the state and one of the oldest in the South. Except for a break during World War II, the group has staged at least one performance every year since the 1930s.
Earlier this year, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo declared 2013 "The Year of the Thalian Association," to mark the 225th anniversary of its founding.
The early Thalians helped fund Thalian Hall and briefly managed the historic theater after its opening in 1858. Today, however, Thalian Hall is managed under a city contract by the non-profit Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, a separate group.
Ben Steelman: 343-2208
(c)2013 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)
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