Looking for a way to fight the existential dread of Sunday nights under the coronavirus? The Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College and The Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County are here to help.
The local organizations are hoping to help viewers overcome the Sunday scaries by introducing “Sunday Special Guests” to their popular Ghostlight Series. Hosted by Shane Fernando, executive and artistic director of the Wilson Center, the special guest series kicked off last Sunday night with a reading by New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash. It continues Sunday, April 12 with Thalian Hall executive director Tony Rivenbark, as he gives a virtual tour of his Wilmington home. Viewers can catch both appearances on the Wilson Center’s Facebook page and website, or during “Smooth Landings with George Scheibner” at 7 p.m. on WHQR the night after they air.
The Ghostlight Series, named for the longtime practice of leaving a single bulb burning onstage when a theater is dark, launched March 23 and has featured musical performances by the likes of Jared Michael Cline, Emily Roth, Johanna Winkel, Travis Shallow and Daniel Rottenberg. Viewers are encouraged to make donations, which will be shared evenly among the performers.
The Sunday series is slightly more flexible: It features a lineup of established regional artists—mostly writers—who have agreed to forego payment in order to raise funds for the nonprofit Broadway for a Better World. The donor-supported initiative provides free tickets for Wilson Center performances to local area nonprofits, especially those focused on youth under the age of 18. Since its inception, it has granted 1,388 tickets to an extensive list of nonprofits, with a value of more than $115,000.
During his appearance last Sunday night, Cash read from his 2017 novel, “The Last Ballad.” Afterward, he gave an impassioned plea for viewers to support area artists.
“There are so many artists and so many performers and so many talented actors in Wilmington that are hurting right now,” he said. “Not necessarily because the theaters are closed, but because their jobs that provide essential income aside from the arts are closed. . . . We need to do our best to reach out to them, to find them, to bring them in and to lend them a hand.”
Rivenbark, likewise, makes a case for Wilmington’s artists by showcasing the kind of eclectic, joyous home a life in the arts can produce. Erected in the Greek Revival style in 1938, the one-time parlor house on South 6th Street was supposed to be featured as part of this year’s Historic Wilmington Foundation Azalea Festival House Tour, before the event was canceled due to COVID-19.
But if Rivenbark was feeling any bitterness, he didn’t show it. With his trademark sense of mischief, the veteran actor donned a colorful mask while greeting interviewer Robin Dale Roberston on thef ront porch, before continuing the tour inside. There, viewers catch a glimpse of the roughly 20,000 objects that fill Rivenbark’s home—including art works by Dorothy Gillespie and Claude Howell, among modern-day Wilmington artists like Nathan Verwey and Nick Mijak, as well as plenty of photos of Rivenbark himself.
“It’s very egotistical,” Rivenbark told encore last week. He describes the home’s style as “somewhere between ‘Auntie Mame’ and schizophrenia . . . I walk around the house and look at my life all day long.”
While the final product may have a homespun, off-the-cuff feel, it is actually the product of a lot of hard work. “We have very specific guidelines, from lighting and camera angle, to the number of pieces performed, and so forth,” says Fernando. That includes maintaining the Wilson Center’s high standards, as well as keeping each video to a viewer-friendly runtime (both Cash and Rivernbark’s performances clocked in at 20 minutes or less). Says Fernando, “In show business you always want to leave the audience wanting more.”
The Sunday Special Guests series will continue in coming weeks with appearances by Wilmington novelist Clyde Edgerton and North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, with more to be announced.