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Waterline Brewing Company was packed on Saturday for Bestival 2019, celebrating encore’s Best Of and the community at large! See interviews and videos featuring winners in Media, Arts & Entertainment category below!

Check out more photos from Chris Brehmer Photography and Tom Dorgan on encore’s Facebook page!

Click here for complete list of winners and runners-up.

encore wraps up the celebration of our 2019 readers’ choice poll, including best male musician Travis Shallow (right). Read and see more from our inaugural Bestival celebration at Waterline on May 11! Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

encore wraps up the celebration of our 2019 readers’ choice poll, including best male musician Travis Shallow (above). Read and see more from our inaugural Bestival celebration at Waterline on May 11! Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST MALE MUSICIAN: TRAVIS SHALLOW

“It’s always nice to be recognized for the work you’re doing,” says singer-songwriter Travis Shallow, who picked up his first win for best male musician by 32% of votes. “But I’ll tell ya right now that I’m not the best musician in town. I’m a songwriter, and that’s the way I see myself; that feels the most honest.”

Surrounded by Wilmington’s top-notch musicians for the past 17 years, Shallow says he’s been fortunate enough to work with talented artists who elevate his own playing and bring his songs to life. With fellow artists like Bob Russell, who completes Shallow’s full band The Deep End, he released “The Great Divide” in October 2017.

“This town has supported me and allowed me to make a living playing music and writing songs full time,” he continues. “For that alone I’m grateful and have big love for this town.”

Here’s what’s happening with Shallow…

encore (e): You performed at this year’s inaugural Bestival, too—what did you think you of the event?

Travis Shallow (TS): I’m glad it was at Waterline, I love that venue and Rob and Eve [Robinson], who own it. They have been super supportive to the local music scene and songwriting community.

And I found out I won from Eric Miller [of L Shape Lot, 98.3 The Penguin] as I was walking up to the event. He said, “Congratulations!” I said, “Oh, I won??” And he said, “whoops, I thought you already new.”

We laughed and what better way to find out. Thanks, Eric. [laughs]

e: What’s the word on latest music?

TS: I’m currently writing for a new record right now, and I’m writing for the duo right now with Bob Russell accompanying. I’m really diving into the stripped down duo performances with Bob [Russell], I love the sound and space we get with that setup.

e: Any plans to enter the recording studio soon?

TS: I feel like I live in a studio, ‘cause I kind of do. I’ve been building up my home studio for quite awhile and I’m currently mixing a live duo record that Bob and I recorded. We are doing it all “in house” and the DIY approach I’m really into right now. We’re looking at a late summer release with that record, and then diving right back into another studio album with this new batch of songs.

I’m also writing a song for a compilation album that’s coming out on Cavity Search Records (based outta Portland, Oregon) and will be released spring 2020, I believe. I’ll be sending out details on that soon through my monthly newsletter at TravisShallow.com. So it’s gettin’ busy, and busy is good right now.

e: What are some upcoming shows that folks can see you at?

TS: We are doing a full-band show as Travis Shallow & The Deep End on July 12 at Brooklyn Arts Center with Striking Copper and Jake Newman. That’s gonna be our only full-band show in town this year (as of right now), so we’ve got some surprises for that show. Hard copy tickets can be bought at Gravity Records and online tickets are available through my website and the BAC’s website also.

e: Anything else you’d like to add about your win, upcoming shows or music?

TS: I wanna recognize and congratulate all the other nominees, ‘cause I dig what they do. Let’s continue to get out there and support the local music scene and local venues.

And a big thank you to everybody that voted. I’m smitten.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST PHOTOGRAPHER: SUSIE LINQUIST PHOTOGRAPHY

“I have known, literally, my entire life I wanted to be a photographer,” Susie Linquist says. “I sat with my dad at lunch when I was 10 years old, and after he told me I could be anything I wanted to be—doctor, lawyer etc.­—I declared I would either be a hairdresser or a photographer.”

And years later 41% of encore readers dubbed Linquist best photographer of 2019.

encore (e): What’s been the driving force behind this career choice and what do you love most about it?

Susie Linquist (SL): I never stopped loving photography. I think part of it was that it wasn’t as easy to take photos when I was a kid, and we didn’t have a camera. I only have one baby picture of myself, and I always wished I had more.  I always felt like photos bring back memories. They fade way to easy without having that visual to remind you.  The best memories of my life are the ones I have photographs of. What I love most is capturing real emotion. I have always loved this.  I want the tears, the laughter, the hugs.  I want it to be beautiful and I want you to look back on the memory and smile.

e: What do you mostly take photos of these days? What do you enjoy per subject matter and why?

SL: The main focus of my business is weddings and boudoir, however lately I am also working with a lot of families and I love that too.  With weddings, my favorite thing is capturing the moments they are going to forget if not documented. Telling the story of their wedding day, unobtrusively so they can enjoy every minute of it. For boudoir, there is nothing more rewarding than watching a woman’s face light up when she sees photos of herself looking sexy and confident.  Hearing her say, “Is that really me?”

That is the most rewarding aspect of my career by far!

e: What’s the most helpful tool or skill you’ve picked up in your tenure?

SL: The most helpful skill I have picked up over the years is the ability to make people feel comfortable in front of my camera. It doesn’t matter how good of photographer you are, if you can’t put your clients at ease, you simply can’t capture them looking their best!

e: Who do you look up to in this profession? Whose work do you admire most and why?

SL: I used to have specific photographers that I followed and so badly wanted to be like. It was really great at the beginning of my career to see my potential. After almost two decades, I have stopped looking at other photographers work. That doesn’t mean I’m not learning, though. I listen to podcasts constantly and I’m always learning and growing and striving to stay on top of what my clients want—even if they don’t know!

I love seeing other photographers’ work and their different perspective, but I no longer have that one person that I follow.  It’s a freeing feeling to be comfortable and confident in your style and your craft.  My clients are what inspire me, honestly. They are each different and unique, and I look to them for inspiration, not other photographers.

e: How can people follow/purchase your work?

My work can be followed on my blog (susielinquist.com/blog) on Instagram and Facebook (@susielinquist, @susielinquistboudoir).
—Shannon Gentry

BEST CULTURAL PROGRAMMING: WILSON CENTER

“Because the Wilson Center is a major arts and culture hub of the Cape Fear region [to which] we strive to bring in a variety of programming,” says Brendan C. Cook, marketing manager for Cape Fear Community College’s performing arts center. “We know not every show will appeal to every person, which is why we bring in shows that are family friendly, as well as those which might appeal to an older audience.”

In addition to shows presented by “Cape Fear Stage,” as it’s known, the Wilson Center hosts shows each season brought in by outside promoters—from national comedy and musical acts, to symphony orchestras, local and international ballet companies, and more. encore readers have recognized Wilson Center for its efforts with 50% of votes for best cultural programming. Cook shared his favorite moments from the Wilson Center stage and what’s to come.

encore (e): Between concerts, comedians, ballets, etc. How many shows have been performed at Wilson center to date?

Brendan Cook (BC): Since opening in October of 2015, the Wilson Center has hosted over 400 ticketed events, including national Broadway tours; national comedy acts; national and international musical performers; local, regional and international contemporary dance and ballet companies; local and state symphonies; and more.

e: What else happens at the Wilson Center per events or otherwise that folks might not be aware of?

BC: Many people are not aware that the Wilson Center is not just the performance hall, but also includes nearly 30 classrooms and laboratory spaces that house the Humanities and Fine Arts Departments of Cape Fear Community College. These include studios for sculpture, printmaking, ceramics; music classrooms and practice rooms, photography classrooms and computer labs; and more. The building is truly one giant learning space for students, as we have students working on every single production at the Wilson Center, and we have a robust internship program that allows students to gain experience in all aspects of putting on a show, from marketing and ticketing, to guest experience, as well as the technical components, including sound, lights, wardrobe, costumes and more.

Further, in addition to all of the shows put on by Cape Fear Stage, and by our renters, the Wilson Center also serves as an important venue for New Hanover and Pender counties. For example, we host the graduation ceremonies for both Wilmington Early College High School and Pender Early College High School, in addition to both spring and fall commencements for Cape Fear Community College. We also host several events for county organizations, including the New Hanover County Schools Best Foot Forward Arts Showcase, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, and more.

e: How many people man Wilson Center? Between staff and volunteers?

BC: The Wilson Center has about a dozen full-time employees, who work in conjunction with our part-time front-of-house staff, more than one hundred part-time local crew members, and approximately 400 volunteers, to make things work.

e: Speaking of volunteers, how might folks get involved? What do Wilson Center volunteers do?

BC: Our STARS Volunteer corps is an essential component of what we do at the Wilson Center. Without our volunteers, it would be almost impossible to put on a show! Our volunteers serve as our Guest Services representatives, staffing our Guest Services kiosk to provide help and information; they staff our concessions stations; they act as ushers in the performance hall, helping guests find their seats; they act as guides during performances, helping guests find their way around the building; and our STARS even work with artists and tours as part of our Artists Services team.

e: Which have been some personal show favorites to date?

BC: We have had so many fantastic shows here—in terms of Broadway, concerts, dance and comedy—that it would almost impossible to pick. However, one of the most interesting things recently was when the Wilson Center served as the technical rehearsal theatre for the national Broadway tour of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” It was wonderful to see the company bringing together the show and getting it ready to go out on the road!

e: Crowd faves?

BC: With our varied audiences, it can be tough to nail down crowd favorites. We have had tremendous crowd response to acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tony Bennett, ZZ Top, Boyz II Men, and even comedians, such as Lily Tomlin, Bill Engvall and Ron White. Obviously, very different performers, but crowd favorites. Broadway shows such as Monty Python’s “SPAMALOT,” “Chicago,” “Amazing Grace,” and even “Annie,” have also been very popular.

e: If money and scheduling worked out, what’s one act you’d absolutely love to see hit the Wilson stage and why?

BC: This is a question which is almost impossible to answer, because anyone you ask—on staff or one our regular attendees—will have their own personal answer to this question! We get regular feedback about artists and shows people want to see here, and if money and scheduling were not a factor, we would love to bring them all!

—Shannon Gentry

 

Rebekah Todd accepts the award for Best Female Musician; a man and his dog enjoy brews and tunes at Bestival. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST FEMALE MUSICIAN: Rebekah Todd accepts the award for Best Female Musician; a man and his dog enjoy brews and tunes at Bestival. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST FEMALE MUSICIAN: REBEKAH TODD

“This community has been so good to me—so welcoming and supportive,” singer-songwriter Rebekah Todd says of her last four years playing local stages. “Wilmington has helped me grow as a musician and as a business woman, and I will always be grateful.”

Todd grew up in Benson, NC, and made ILM her homebase after graduating from East Carolina University in 2012. She released her debut EP, “Forget Me Not,” in 2011, followed by “Roots Bury Deep” in 2014, and a full-length album, “Crooked Lines,” in February 2017. Her full band Rebekah Todd & The Odyssey won the On The Rise series for FloydFest 2016 and opened for the likes of St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Shovels and Rope, and Turkuaz. Now Rebekah Todd and drummer/husband Logan Tabor have a soulful and rockin’ connection on the stage, and encore readers’ hear and feel it, too. So much so, 44% of voters selected Rebekah Todd as this year’s Best Female Musician.

encore (e): How does it feel to be recognized by Wilmingtonians as Best Female Musician?

Rebekah Todd (RT) When I moved to Wilmington four years ago, I was basically starting from the bottom. It was scary to step into a new scene and try to make a name for myself. But I started contacting booking agents and going to open mics and just getting as involved as I possibly could. People were very accepting and made me feel at home. To have all those people who supported me when I was just starting out, recognize me now with this award is an incredible feeling. It means the leap of faith I took in the first place has paid off.

e: You performed at our 2019 inaugural Bestival, too. Tell us what you thought of the event and how you found out you won the “e.”

RT: Bestival was an awesome event. There were a ton of people out supporting, all the tasty food vendors, and the stages and sound systems were very well-managed. I actually found out about the award in a funny way: On our way to Bestival, I was telling my husband how nervous I was about not knowing if I won, and he could see how it was affecting me. So he quietly texted another local musician who was actually already at the event and asked him to check the results for us. It was a good move—I felt super relieved and was able to get my head in the game before we played!

e: What’s the latest happenings with your music? Tell us about one or two songs you’ve been working on or playing live…

RT: One song I’ve been more excited about lately is a song called “Fog.” I’ve had this song for years now; for whatever reason, I never recorded it. Lately it has felt more cathartic to play for people. I am really starting to hear all the bits and pieces come together.

It’s about a cross-country road trip I took many years ago, and all the things I learned about myself and about the world along the way. Now, I’m toying with the idea of finally recording it, and taking a very intimate and minimalist approach.

e: Any plans to enter the recording studio soon?

RT: Yes, roughly. I don’t have any dates booked, but so much has been changing in my life and it has brought so much inspiration. Recently, I sat down with my phone (which is where I recorded all my really rough ideas for songs) and realized I had about 20 concepts that were fairly far along. At this point the goal is to demo everything and pick the best 10 tracks to take to the real studio.

e: Tell me a little about van life and these plans to go down to Mexico; what was the impetus for this trip?

RT: Van life is fantastic, if you’re OK with “roughing it” a bit. It’s very freeing, and it causes one to simplify their lives, which in itself is extremely therapeutic.

Our van is set up to carry everything we need from clothes to food to music equipment—but only the essentials, no fluff. We have had a busy year and decided we wanted to take a big trip. Our original plan was to do a trip across Canada and into Alaska, but it turns out we couldn’t get started early enough in the year to avoid big, heavy snows.

We decided to take a winter trip South to follow the warm weather. It will include stopping in places like New Orleans, Galveston, Las Vegas, etc., but the ultimate goal is to drive all the way down to the Baja Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas. Wish us luck!

e: What are some upcoming shows people can attend?

RT: We are working on booking up the back half of the summer in Wilmington right now, so stay tuned!

Follow rebekhatodd.com to learn more about upcoming releases and show dates.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST FESTIVAL: AZALEA FESTIVAL

“The North Carolina Azalea Festival is southeastern North Carolina at its best: in full bloom, in its finest, most vibrant colors, representing and showcasing all that makes Wilmington amazing,” Azalea Fest executive director Alison Baringer English says. “I think there is an energy in the air that time of year…with spring weather arriving and the colors of our town exploding. People want to be a part of that energy.”

Steeped in 72 years of tradition, with new events and programs each year, Baringer English says the combination of familiarity and contemporary entertainment gives everyone something to look forward to when Azalea Festival returns next April 1-5, 2020. Until then, here’s why she thinks they culled 54% of votes for Best Festival.

encore (e): What are your favorite things to do at Azalea Fest and why? How have you been a part of or enjoyed festivities over the years outside of your current role?

Alison Baringer English (ABE): Honestly, everything festival week is my favorite! It is so amazing to see a year of hard work that SO MANY people put into it, to all come together and be live. Each event is special for its own reasons, and since we work to improve each event and program each year, there is always something new I am excited to see come together. Before I worked with the Azalea Festival, I actually danced in the Festival Parade as an employee of a dance studio I worked for in college. Our dancers also performed on the Street Fair Children’s Stage; so I got to see all of that in action, too.

e: What are some new additions to the festival that we can expect in the coming year or two?

ABE: The Azalea Festival is about to celebrate our 75th anniversary in 2022; we have already created a 75th Advisory Council and are starting to make plans to make this a huge celebration with and for the city. As part of our strategic plan, we will also be working to expand community partnerships, expand our reach across the state, and create new events and programs to include different demographics and niche groups of our community. Some ways you may have seen this already in effect this past year was through our partnership with paws4people® in our first annual Paws on Parade, and our partnership with Thalian Association Community Theatre.

e: Let’s talk music—how does Azalea Fest determine headlining acts? What factors in?

ABE: We have a national agent who helps us gain access to acts and relationships with their booking agents and managers. Of course, the main factors are cost and availability. Since we have to build out our own venue each year from a parking lot, we have a lot of infrastructure costs that go into these shows. Add to this the high costs of artists, along with sound and lights, production, catering, etc.; the Festival is lucky if we break even on the concert series. With all costs and availability of artists being equal – we look to have a wide range of musical genres so we can provide something for everyone Festival week. This generally, but not always, results in a country, pop, and an urban show.

e: Which have been your favorite performances over the years and why?

ABE: As an event organizer, my favorite thing to see is our venue full of happy, smiling people enjoying time with their friends and family out in our beautiful city. Watching thousands of people celebrating the night, knowing I had a small part in making it happen, really is the best—regardless of who is on stage. For me personally, a few of my favorites have been Carrie Underwood, The Avett Brothers the first time they came to the festival, and Snoop Dogg. Carrie Underwood was my first festival concert as a team member, and it was her first concert post “American Idol.” It also was a sold-out show. It was really cool to feel that energy in the coliseum that night.

The Avett Brothers’ first time to the festival was also special because it was the first time we ventured into that genre of music. The Avett Brothers audience was made up of a wide range of ages, including a lot of young adults who were experiencing the festival for the first time. It is always special to expose new people to the festival. Snoop Dogg was also amazing as he was nearly sold-out as well, and we had just started bringing acts from the urban genre to the festival the year before. With this show, we were able to establish there was a desire in Wilmington for this music … and he is just so iconic of a musician and a brand—it was incredible to see him perform and meet him.

e: Who would you personally LOVE to get out to Azalea Fest and why?

ABE: I would love to bring some of the great icons to the festival: Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Justin Timberlake, Garth Brooks, etc. Maybe someday, if our budgets ever allow…

e: Anything else you’d like to add about your win for Best Festival?

ABE: The Azalea Festival would like to thank all of the voters for this award and supporters of the festival. This truly is a community event; we would not have survived 72 years without your dedication and your desire to love and celebrate everything that makes Wilmington special during Azalea Festival week.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST THEATRE VENUE: THALIAN HALL

Thalian Hall is featured in encore every single week. Between countless theatre productions on its main stage and in Ruth & Bucky Stein’s theater, weekly film screenings via WHQR’s Cinematique, as well as various music and special events throughout the year, Thalian Hall continues its reign as Best Theater Venue on encore’s readers’ poll in 2019.

Most recently, Opera House Theatre Company has brought a toe-tapping ode to old Broadway in “42nd Street” that knocked off the socks of encore’s reviewrer, Chase Harrisonf. Director Suellen Yates leads an incredible cast in this fun musical packed with incredible numbers and dance choreography. People can still see “42nd Street” until it closes June 23.

Upstairs in the Ruth & Bucky Stein stage, Panache Theatrical Productions is showing “The Cake,” in time for Pride month. The a must-see comedy packs  social relevance and moved encore reviewer Gwenyfar Rohler this week (see page 27); it also runs until June 23.

Next on the summer’s docket is Opera House’s “Five Guys Named Moe” (July 4-21), wherein all wounds can heal with good music; young thespians can rejoice when Performance Club Studio Theater puts on “Frozen Jr.” in the Ruth & Bucky Stein Theatre (July 26-28); “Billy Elliot: The Musical” (August 1-18) features a score by the great Elton John; and “Shakespeare In Love” (August 29-September 8) brings a romantic comedy inspired by the Bard and filled with sword fights, mistaken identities, scheming and backstage drama to Thalian’s main stage.

Thalian brings more than 20 theatre productions annually to Wilmington, and roughly 400 or more units other arts and community events throughout the year. Executive director Tony Rivenbark said “it’s a very tricky exercise in logistics” after last year’s win.

Rivenbark literally wrote the book on Thalian’s historical significance in Images of America: Thalian Hall (2014), wherein he tells of its dual-purpose at the center of ILM cultural and political life since it first opened in 1858, when it became home to City Hall and local government offices. The venue at the corner of 3rd and Chestnut has undergone numerous updates and renovations during its centuries-old timeframe.

The only theatre left designed by John Montague Trimble—and the only one with capaxwbilities to use a Thunder Roll, a popular sound-effects contraption used in 18th and 19th century theatre—folks can take a one-hour guided tour through the historic 1858 building. Free for Thalian Hall members and children 5 years old and less, individual and group tours are available every Monday at 2 p.m. and private tours are offered Monday-Friday by appointment.

Folks looking for more ways to show support for Wilmington’s Best Theater Venue can belly up to a delicious benefit during their annual A Taste of the Town is set for September 24 and features downtown’s best restaurants sampling their signature dishes across town. For a $50 fee, everyone is handed a map and provided access to a trolley get around to participating restaurants. Each person judges categories in Best Appetizer, Best Entrée and Best Overall.

Folks can find more details and other events at thalianhall.org. Thalian Hall takes 56% of votes for Best Theatre Venue.

—Shannon Gentry

Waterline Brewing Company was packed on May 11 for Bestival 2019, including the art vendor walk with homemade bags from Mar’s Bag-Ettes.

ART WALK: Waterline Brewing Company was packed on May 11 for Bestival 2019, including the art vendor walk with homemade bags from Mar’s Bag-Ettes.

BEST KIDS’ THEATRE COMPANY: THALIAN ASSOCIATION CHILDRENS THEATRE

“James and the Giant Peach” (September 13-22), “Goosebumps the Musical” (November 8-17), “A Disney Revue” (January 17-26, 2020), “Xanadu Jr” (March 13-22, 2020), “Freaky Friday” (April 24-May 3, 2020). The list goes on as 2019-20 brings a lot of nostalgia, music, and most importantly, F-U-N to Thalian Association Children’s Theatre’s stage.

“Freaky Friday the Musical” is the age-old tale of a mother and her teenage daughter magically swapping bodies. The type-A mom is super organized, while the daughter is, well, a teenager. They have just one day to figure out how to get back to normal in the midst of living in each others’ shoes.
“‘Freaky Friday’ is new for us and was recently made into a Disney Channel musical—so that’s fun!” artistic director Chandler Davis iterates. “I’d love to do ‘Children of Eden’ with TACT. The music is beautiful and it sure would be easy to cast all of the animals!”

Like Thalian Association (Best Theatre Company)—and pretty much all of ILM—encore readers’ choice for Best Kids Theatre Company endured losses  due to Hurricane Florence last September. One of the most popular productions, “Alice in Wonderland,” lost its second weekend run to the storm. Nevertheless, TACT offers more than just opportunities to perform. Kids learn valuable social and leadership skills from the commitment, too.

“We rehearse five days a week for five weeks,” Davis reminds. “Everyone is welcome . . . and it is a free program.”

TACT also works with all skill sets and interests, casting anywhere from 20-60 roles at a time. Therefore, they choose a variety of shows for varying degrees of experience in their five productions a year. Participants range from 7-18 years of age (or high-school seniors). One of TACT’s musicals, “Stuart Little,” featured many first-time performers who enjoyed acting but not necessarily singing. On the other hand, “Into the Woods,” was more advanced and required more experienced older performers.

“A personal favorite of mine [from 2018] was ‘Godspell,’” she tells. “The kids really blew me away with that one. I also love our sensory friendly performances that we do for students in New Hanover’s Specially Designed Academics Program. . . . Anyone can audition so we have kids from almost every school and home schoolers as well.”

“James and the Giant Peach” will be the next TACT production this fall. Another poignant and quirky story from Roald Dahl, it offers a brand new take on the wickedly witty book, with adventurous tunes of courage and self-discovery.

TACT posts all audition dates for each year’s productions at Thalian.org by the end of July. As well, kids can still sign up for TACT’s 6-week Creative Arts Camp starting June 17 at the Community Arts Center in the Hannah Block Historic USO Building (Orange and 2nd streets, downtown). Each camp series is grouped by ages ranging 4 and up, and focus on performing arts, technical theatre, visual arts, ceramics, filmmaking and more.

Creative Arts Camp series have themes and a final show/project for family, friends and fans to see! Full- and half-day camp packages, as well as a shorter two-week option, are available for registration fees ranging from $85-$320.

encore readers voted them Best Kids Theatre Company by 47% in 2019’s Best Of poll.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST FEMALE ARTIST: Addie Jo Bannerman accepts the award for Best Female Artist;

BEST FEMALE ARTIST: Addie Jo Bannerman accepts the award for Best Female Artist. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST FEMALE ARTIST: ADDIE JO BANNERMAN

“Whenever I received the email stating I was nominated, I had to reread it multiple times for it to sink in!” Addie Jo Bannerman tells encore about her Best Female Artist 2019 win. She was notified at the end of March that she made it among the top three. Then in April final voting took place and Bannerman came out with 40% of the vote for the win.

“I have been working very hard,” Bannerman admits. “My focus within the past couple of years has been zoomed in on being an artist, not just creating pieces for fun but actually getting them out into the community and viewing the whole process as a business.”To win Best Female Artist 2019 reassured me that I must be doing something right. I am so thankful for encore and the Wilmington community for giving me this award! “

We interviewed Bannerman about her craft and what’s to come in 2019.

encore (e): Tell us what’s new for you as an artist these days: working on new artistic directions/media? New art shows? New festivals?

Addie Jo Bannerman (AJB): I currently have my work on display at Tama Tea in the Forum and at Hendershots in downtown Athens, Georgia, for the month of June. I’ll be having a closing show on June 3 in Athens at Hendershots.

I just finished instructing a Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired watercolor workshop at Longwave Yoga last month. I hope to host a watercolor workshop series soon, as well as another solo exhibition in the fall to showcase some new pieces I’ve been working on. I’ve also been teaching private watercolor lessons, which is a dream!

e: How many shows do you have planned in 2019 and can you tell us where they are and when?

AJB: I don’t have any shows booked for 2019 … yet! But I am currently working on the details: My idea is to showcase an ode to the Southern aesthetic. Lately, I’ve been finding inspiration in my family and the Southern landscape.

My family was born and raised in the South. My great grandmother was an artist, and after she passed she gave me all of her painting supplies. I still use her brushes to this day.

I lost my grandfather a couple of years ago and I really miss him. Going through family photos, seeing my great grandmother sitting in an old Cadillac and my other grandmother looking so happy and beautiful has really hit home for me. Having an exhibition embracing my Southern roots would be much more than just an art show to me; it would be a tribute to my family.

e: How did you decide to pursue art? Did you study it in school?

AJB: Being creative has always stuck with me. When I was little, I was always doodling and drawing, trying to be part of any art club I could. It’s been a dream of mine to be an artist since I knew what an artist was. I am mostly self-taught and I don’t have an art degree.

e: Are you a full-time artist? If not, what else do you do?

AJB: In addition to being an artist, I am a yoga and indoor cycling instructor at Longwave Yoga and Amplifly Cycle and Strength. I have a schedule I stick with to organize my time with both and it helps me stay focused.

e: What’s the most challenging part for you when you’re creating?

AJB: I think the most challenging part of creating is making sure I stay social. When I am in the studio alone all day multiple times a week, I can get into a funk. I have to make sure that I am still making time to see my friends and I go to yoga classes on a regular basis.

e: What else is inspiring you most these days per creating new stuff?

AJB: In addition to my family being an inspiration, I’ve been inspired by artists who use natural plant dyes in their work. Gillian King (@agillianking) is an artist based in Canada who has a fascinating creative process. She uses natural plant dyes and animal ashes in her large abstracts.
One day, I decided to use instant coffee as my pigment instead of watercolor and I really enjoyed it. I drink tea every day and I thought of painting on the actual tea bag instead of watercolor paper. I let the tea bag dry, unfolded it and painted a girl turned away from a kite that was blowing away from her. I received such a positive response from the community, so I kept creating them!
I’ve had the privilege of painting multiple commission pieces — they make great gifts!

e: Where can someone purchase your work?

AJB: You can check out my work on my instagram @_aj.grey_ and on my website at www.ajgreyartist.com . If you’re interested in seeing my tea bag paintings in person, check out Tama Tea in the Forum. All sales and commission requests go through me directly.
.            —Shea Carver

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BEST ACTOR: PATRICK BASQUILL

For Patrick Basquill, becoming an actor started when he was a wee-bit in elementary school. He played “some Napolean knockoff,” and after stuffing his shirt with a pillow to many laughs, he realized acting was a way to get people to talk to him. Fast forward to his early adulthood, and he’s having no shortage of friends or roles, for that matter. He’s done over 100 shows and 20 to 30 short films.

Basquill tied with Jeff Phillips (34%) for encore’s Best Actor award in 2019. We interviewed him about his career thus far.

encore (e): How have you studied acting outside of hands-on work?

PB: I’m annoying. The preparation is now my favorite part. I love the study of a character—essentially I use the Iceberg Theory when approaching a character. I build this big unique backstory, the events that lead up to the story we are telling onstage. Those useless morsels of information inform (for me) the choices a character makes, and in doing that when playing the character the choices make more sense. I’ve written pages and pages. I’ve painted. I’ll make sure and know what happened right before I enter the stage—what my character wants in each scene from each character.

e: What have been some of your most memorable roles and why?

PB: My most memorable roles would probably be Matt in “Dog Sees God,” ‘cause that was the first time I felt like I actually got to act, much to my fists chagrin (broke my hand “acting”). Also Jonathon Crane in “Gallery” —I was able to play the silence in that role more then anything to date. Finally, I think my most recent role as Alferd Packer in “Cannibal! The Musical” because I literally got to stay on stage for the whole show, and sing all the different styles of songs.

e: You also have done comedy—what do you love about it and how does it fuel your creativity?

PB: I studied comedy in Chicago at the Second City and everyday I study people. Comedy is all about the release of tension, uncomfortability (apparently, not a word), or shock. I love comedy because you’re allowed to be honest. You’re encouraged to be honest. The best comedy comes from heightened realism—bare honesty. I like comedy because it allows, forces you to examine what you find uncomfortable and ask why? From there you find the truth and once you’ve find the truth, you do like “CSI” and enhance it until you’ve got … comedy. Also, people seem to let me do comedy more then anything else, so I like it that way, too.

e: Most challenging show to date? Most fulfilling?

PB: The most challenging show I’ve done so far is “Red” —a two-man show built around Mark Rothko and his “assistant.” It was challenging because there’s no break, and I had to show change for each time jump. So the challenge was balancing what I had for Ken in the final scene, and letting Ken in the first scene lead me to that.

Sometimes, I’d have a better first and fourth scene Ken, and the second, third and fifth Ken I wouldn’t be able to find their groove. That being said, it was my most fulfilling role because it was so challenging.
Alternate answer: The sketch show I produced/wrote/directed/scored/performed, “Beasts, with Two Backs,” was probably the most challenging theatre experience I’ve ever had. It was all on us but that again made it the most fulfilling. I had amazing collaborators (Fake Brothers Productions, Billy Heathen, Daredevil Improv) and we got it up there and it was all the way good.

e: What role is on your bucket list?

PB: Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” Amazing songs, all me, it’s a fascinating high-energy role.
Iago in “Othello”—I mean, Iago is an A-plus role. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Katurian in “The Pillowman”—I love Martin McDonagh’s writing and this is a story I love. I love plays where you just sit in one place and are just the character.

e: What do you love about community theatre?

PB: That it’s a community! Everyone gets the opportunity to pursue and play this fun thing.

e: Have you taken your acting to bigger platforms? Do you have a desire to go bigger?

PB: I’ve auditioned for many things. I’ve acted in short films. I guess that’s technically a bigger platform. Of course I have the desire to go bigger, but I’m not a good enough singer (or I haven’t put the time into being a good singer) to be a Broadway star or even a backup singer. I’m a pretty bad dancer. I also don’t wanna play Annoying Dude #3 on “Vampire Diaries: The Vampirening.” I’ve put much of my energy into writing, directing and being funny. I am going bigger.

e: Short-term and long-term goals?

PB: Direct “Urinetown” nice and good, get married, and continue to do improv Wednesday night with Daredevil Improv.

Long term: Write and direct a feature film. I’m about two years away from that, probably. That’s about as long term as I’ll look ‘cause after that the goal is to write and direct another feature film.

—Shea Carver

BEST THEATRE COMPANY: THALIAN ASSOCIATION

Last fall was tough for local theatre. Due to Florence, shows were cut short, rescheduled or simply scrapped. However, as this year’s Best Theatre Company, Thalian Association persevered with 2018’s “Pippin.” Despite losing two weeks of rehearsal and the first weekend of shows, artistic director Chandler Davis cites the production as one of her favorites of the year simply because of how the company came together.

“The cast really gathered together as a family and worked long hours while dealing with the personal impact Florence had on each of them at the same time,” she tells. “But we got the show up and running, and it was great. We didn’t want Florence to have the last word. . . . The people who work for or volunteer for Thalian Association definitely make it feel like we’re accomplishing something as a family.”

This isn’t Thalian Associastion’s first win for Best Theatre Company, and they strive to live up to those readers’ expectations after so many years to produce quality productions. They also provide artistic opportunities for local artists.

“We love listening to the community and finding out what they’d like to see next,” Davis adds. “I think a crowd favorite this year was definitely ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ All of the design elements came together really well and the cast had a blast, which I think the audience could really feel.”

Thalian Association productions to look out for in 2019 include a magical rendition of “Matilda the Musical.” Originally done by the Tony Award-winning Roald Dahl, “Matilda” is about a little girl’s aspirations of a better life and using the power of imagination starting September 27.

Folks can see SANTAAAAAA! in “Elf” for the holidays starting December 13. Will Ferrell made Buddy the Elf a beloved holiday character in the film, and this production will stay true to the modern day holiday classic to find your inner elf. As well the famed Broadway musical “Aida,” featuring music by Elton John is heading to the Wilmington stage.

All of the aforementioned shows happen to be completely new to Wilmington’s local theatre scene. Sights are set for bringing many more fresh productions to town.

“The amateur rights are not currently available but I’d love to produce ‘Waitress’ someday,” Davis divulges. “It’s a great story and has three strong female leads.”

Looking ahead to 2020, “The Producers” will start May 22 with more announcements coming, to be found at Thalian.org as the year progresses.

Thalian Association got a standing ovation for Best Theatre Company by 64% of readers on the 2019 Best Of poll.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST RADIO PERSONALITY: FOZ (Z107.5)

“Being able to do so much good, and have so much fun at the same time—it’s a great time to be in the radio business!” Jason “Foz” Fosdick told encore after collecting yet another Best Of award for Best Radio Personality. While his wall of awards at his Z107.5 office may be missing 2018, encore readers have returned the “e” to Foz once again in 2019.

Every weekday morning from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m., Foz and friends talk the latest in news about love, life, stars and style while playing a few songs and giving away lots of prizes in between. Foz also wears many hats behind the scenes, too: He plays radio host as well as program director, music director, imaging director, and director of performance and personnel for Sunrise Broadcasting’s four other radio stations (98.7 Modern Rock, Jammin 99.9, ESPN Wilmington or 95.9 AM630, and Sunny 103.7).

“The day starts at 4 a.m.—sometimes after 4 p.m.! ” Foz said in 2017. “Z is one of the most active stations on the planet, with contests, concerts, tons of remotes, music research, community involvement, appearances . . . lots of work is required to run this monster radio station! You really have to love something to do it for 12 hours a day. I obviously really love this job.”

Most recently on June 8, Foz and friends had a live drawing for five pairs of tickets to see the Jonas Brothers and an electric guitar at Pet Supplies Plus in Monkey Junction. There was also a massive adoption aspect to the event and attracted hundreds of locals. Foz tends to have good times with special guests in the studio, too. Most recently he invited Durham’s Bedlam Vodka to make a few Monday morning cocktails, complete with a live demonstration on Facebook. Among the tasty recipes they tried were a Bedlam Bloody Mary and the Caipiroska, which is made of fresh muddled lime, simple syrup and Bedlam Vodka.

Foz says ratings have never been better since he started sharing airtime with Michaela Batten a few years ago, much to listeners’ delight as the two banter at one of Wilmington’s most beloved Top 40 stations. As Foz and company continue to grow over at Z107.5, the community also benefits. In the past, Z has provided hundreds of teachers with school supplies, helped secure food vouchers for local families, gas cards, beds and anything Wilmington-area families might need—and there are ways listeners can help year-round, so stay tuned!

There are plenty more giveaways on Z107.5’s Facebook page, where they also share entertainment news, feel-good stories and some of Foz’s greatest fears in life. (Hint: It’s snakes.)

Foz had 44% of Wilmington listeners’ votes for Best Radio Personality.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST MALE ARTIST: BRADLEY CARTER

2018 was quite a busy year for local artist Bradley Carter. He participated in more than 10 shows and festivals, on top of creating new work for his ongoing four rotating shows a year at The George on downtown’s Riverwalk. 2019 already has welcomed him into two art shows and quite a few art walks and markets. His works are culled with bright colors, vibrantly joyful in renderings of floral impressions and dancing brush strokes in his abstract works.

It’s Carter’s first time on the encore readers’ choice poll, wherein he has taken home Best Male Artist for 2019 with 42% of the vote. We interviewed him about his process as a full-time artist and what’s coming.

encore (e): So how do you feel winning Best Male Artist 2019 … aside from excited of course?

Bradley Carter (BC): Surprised and grateful. I see all the amazing artist that Wilmington has on forth Friday and our local shows and know a lot of luck and hopefully good karma is what helped me win.

e: Tell us what’s new for you as an artist these days: working on new artistic directions/media? New art shows? New festivals? Tell us about it all?

BC: 2018 was a crazy busy painting and show year for me so I’ve kind of taken a step away the last tow months and focused on furniture making again. I did the same thing back in 2017. As an artist you just don’t want to make stuff for the sake of making it, and I was starting to feel that way again and the art was losing its soul and purpose.

e: Yeah, tell us how you got into building tables and furniture…

BC: I started making furniture and tables back in 2017 as a different way to allow myself to create. A lot of people take time off or away from the job but since art is my full-time job I needed to find a way to still create, but in a different medium or utilizing a different part of my mind so my normal process could breath. Furniture does this for me.  It’s not as emotionally taxing, it’s just letting the beauty of nature show through.

It’s a different creative process of letting the material (wood) really dictate the beauty of a pieces verses painting. It really lets me recharge my batteries but still allows me to create.  I can tell I’ve been away a little while as I’m starting to get new ideas and the itch to paint after two months.

e: What’s the most challenging part of being a full-time artist?

BC: Creating. Finding Inspiration. Motivation. Being original, and keeping up with the show hustle. All that stuff can drain you, but it’s part of the job and I wouldn’t change it.

e: What’s the most fulfilling part to being a full-time artist? What advice would you give to others trying to attain such goals?

BC: The most fulfilling, has to be when someone wants something you’ve created out of nothing. If it’s a sale or if it’s a friend saying, I was at so and so’s and guess what was on their wall.” Or meeting a collector that loves your work so much they have it on their phone and want to show it to you. It’s a feeling that still shocks me and I can’t believe I get to do this.

e: What’s inspiring you most these days per creating new stuff?

BC: Possibilities of everything and the ripple effects one choice has on another, new materials manipulation, and always self expression.

e: How many shows do you have planned in 2019? Any specific themes or ideas, media you’re working on?

BC: Still applying and entering shows. Next up will be Landfall show, Arboretum show here in Wilmington and Arts at the Mill, a three-day festival in Mooresville, NC. I’m also working with Art in Bloom gallery for a new show in 2020.

e: Anything else we should know?

BC: I’m excited to take over the Wilmington Art Association outreach program next school year, and working with the public and private high schools in our area, along with UNCW and Cape Fear Community College. I’ll head up the New Hanover High School end-of-year art show. It’s important these students have the opportunity to create and experience of artful thinking. It doesn’t matter if they are going to be a full time artist or a doctor or IT specialist.

Art helps foster creative thinking, looking at a problem with a new perspective, or understanding color theory and designs for user  interactions. I could go on about it but I will save it for the students which are amazing!                                                                              —Shea Carver

BEST PRODUCTION (STRAIGHT PLAY): ALCHEMICAL THEATRE’S “TWELFTH NIGHT”

Alchemical Theatre Company’s creative director Christopher Marino has been knocking it out of the park in local theatre since they started a short three years ago. encore readers continue to fill seats for Alchemical shows and 2018’s “Twelfth Night” culled 35% of votes for Best Production—Straight Play. We spoke with Marino about this year’s win and what’s to come in 2019.

encore (e): What’s the secret to putting on an award-winning play? Did ya make a deal with the theatre devil or something?

Christopher Marino (CM): If there is a secret ingredient, I think it is a combination of creating three-dimensional and supremely human characters in classical work and working with the imagination. Asking yourself, ‘What does the text want?’—or in some cases, ‘What does the space want?’ Not all plays work in all spaces, so one has to consider the environment for the play to work.

Personnel is also a secret ingredient, finding people committed to the work, [who] are generous actors. Theatre is alchemy—hence the name of the company. It needs all the right combinations of elements to work, so when it does, it looks like magic—or the work of the devil.

e: You’re known for offering up classic Shakespeare with a modern twist, but how easy or hard was that with “Twelfth Night”?

CM: It does appear we are modernizing things when we do Shakespeare, but actually we are creating productions much closer to what Shakespeare originally did. Shakespeare wrote modern plays; it just so happens his modern was the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Very much like great works of television or film, they are set in another time but are about what is happening in the now (“Game of Thrones” comes to mind, even though the time of that show is fictional). So, in updating settings, we are really being quite reverent of the text in our work.

In “Twelfth Night” the key is to find a parallel world where the relationships are plausible, but not to be mired in the world where it could violate the text of the play. “Twelfth Night” very loosely was set in a sort of Weimar Republic. It gave it a feeling of coherence so the audience was not wrestling with understanding the world of the play and the text at the same time. We needed a world where it was still plausible to have knights and titled positions of status. This is not to say we will never set a play in a contemporary world to Shakespeare, but to do it well takes a very large budget.

If done poorly you run the risk of alienating the audience by giving them a vague sword and tights pseudo-Shakespearean world. If it resembles the boring high-school test-focused Shakespeare we had to endure, the audience will stop listening. If they stop listening, then there is no play and they are in for a long evening.

e: Why do you think “Twelfth Night” hit so well with Wilmington audiences?

CM: It is very much a perfect comedy and a celebration of all facets of human nature. It has everything—pain, sorrow and humor. The laughs are real, and there is a deep need and longing, too. It is a beautiful play if you let the text do the work and get out of its way. We have all known people like these characters, and in that sense, the play is about us.

e: You worked with Adrian Varnam again for this production. What about your professional relationship keeps you collaborating, and is there another in the works?

CM: Adrian and I work very well together, we understand how to collaborate, and now have a shorthand in our approach. We also trust we are both aspiring to make something magical and bigger than us. We enjoy trying to give goosebump moments in the plays; I think that is what can happen when the mix is right. I think the ending of “Twelfth Night,” which was a song from the whole ensemble, was magical and we want more of that in the theatre.

On July 20 (tickets are now available), Esther Williamson (Viola from “Twelfth Night”) and I will be performing a two-person take on Macbeth as part of the Lumina Festival [happening July 12-28]. Adrian will be playing live to support the piece. We are also re-tooling the “Faustus” piece for a professional production, and Adrian will be composing the music for “The Comedy of Errors” when I direct at UNCW in the spring.

e: What can Wilmington theatre expect from you and Alchemical for the rest of 2019 and beyond?  

CM: This summer we are putting our focus into our “Make Trouble” summer Shakespeare training program. The program will culminate in productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Timon of Athens” for Lumina Festival. We are also taking time to see what Wilmington will support and not rushing into things.

We know we need a space and the support of people who share our vision of creating a professional destination theatre here in Wilmington. We will continue our outreach work with teacher training, and we hope to be in the schools very soon.

We want to be an asset to the community in ways that are over and above just the production of theatre. We are here for the long haul, and it will take both time and care in choosing our work so we become a cherished part of Wilmington. Whatever we settle on, be ready for more innovation, creativity and celebration. We are just getting started.

—Shannon Gentry

BEST HUMANITARIAN: JOCK BRANDIS

Jock Brandis is synonymous with The Full Belly Project. He founded the nonprofit in 2002 with the mission to combat hunger and poverty with innovation; inventing and supplying devices that help communities abroad get more from their lands and make their daily lives healthier and safer. Brandis helped bring to life products like a universal nut sheller, solar water pump, rocker water pump, hand-washing station and more. His effort rarely go unnoticed by encore readers, as he collects another Best Humanitarian award in 2019.

“First of all, this award belongs to the volunteers and staff who make me look good,” Brandis notes. “I just stand up in front of the microphone and people think it’s all me. I think Wilmington likes Full Belly because they can imagine how individual small farmers get a better return from a day’s labor and a plot of land because of what we do. They understand the idea of giving someone a tool instead of a meal. And they like setting up little local tool-making shops to keep it all in the community.”

This summer, however, Brandis says he’s transitioning from his “hands-on, in-the-middle-of-the-project” role into more of an adviser and project mentor. Full Belly is transitioning into its own focus.

“People who know how Full Belly works wonder how we are going to pull that off,” Brandis admits. “After all, I’m the simple, mechanical tech guy, or as the folks at MIT once called me, ‘the Henry Ford of the Stone Age—it’s hard to find someone who thinks pre-industrial revolution. So the volunteers have moved Full Belly into a more digital world.”

Brandis points out that the farm co-ops in Africa that Full Belly works with have access to things like smartphones, which allow them to work with modern food safety and tracking systems. Think UPS package barcodes and using smartphone scanners.

“We’re getting more money for farmers by setting them up for higher farm gate prices that come from higher, exportable food quality,” Brandis explains. “That ‘higher-tech Full Belly’ can find my replacement more easily than the old ‘concrete machine Full Belly.’”

Locally, as part of his personal mission, Brandis is working with hemp farmers as the tides shift for a new cash crop. More North Carolina farmers, particularly in Rutherford County, are growing hemp for CBD oil.

“But the real future is fiber,” Brandis says. “So we want to get the technology sorted out so that when they want to use the stalks they now leave in the field, we’ll be ready for them.”

Nevertheless, combating hunger in communities remains a top priority for Brandis. Farming and finding ways to support sustainable farming will always call for his expertise. “My dream project would be solar water for farmers that have to endure the dry season,” he says. “Hunger has much more to do with water than with food. Poor rainfall creates hunger and poverty. We’ve done it on the small scale and it’s easy to scale up. Do you hear me, MacKenzie Bezos?”

Jock Brandis received 51% of votes for Best Humanitarian.

—Shannon Gentry

Brent Holland won Best Teacher for his work with Laney High School students

Brent Holland won Best Teacher for his work with Laney High School students

BEST TEACHER: BRENT HOLLAND

“There are so many really great teachers out there that seldom get recognized and I can name two dozen that make me look pretty meager,” Laney High School’s Brent Holland says in response to his win on encore’s readers’ choice poll. “I appreciate my kids for putting me up for this. I was pretty blown away to find out I was a finalist, [and] winning was really humbling.”

The drama teacher at Laney was once a student there, too. Wilmington is where he fell in love with theatre and teaching; and it’s where he garnered 38% of votes for Best Teacher in 2019.

encore (e): Tell us about the productions you’ve put on as of late at Laney—which have been favorites?

Brent Holland (BH): There have been so many I have loved. This year we did the “Never Before Seen Pilot Episode of Dipsy the DInosaur” and it was one of the funniest things I have ever had the chance to see … such a talented group of kids. “937” last year; a wonderfully touching piece about WWII and the holocaust. “An Experiment” [was] a play I wrote in a panic after Hurricane Florence cancelled three weeks of school—that was used to replace a much bigger ensemble competition piece. That show was picked up by Eldridge Plays and Musicals, but if those kids hadn’t done the work on it that they did, it never would have been anything. “The Seventh Officer,” “The White Rose,” “A Game,” “Cave Dream,” “The Confederation of Radically Altered People” … there are just so many over the years.

e: What’s an impactful moment or memorable anecdote from your tenure?

BH: After the final show of the year each year, my honors class sit together and the seniors get to speak. It’s always a cry fest and so wonderfully touching. Unlike other teachers who have students a semester and they leave, some of these kids have been with me all four years and for as many as 12 to 14 classes. I really get to know the kids and grow to love them. That last night is always a learning experience, though, and special.

e: Who was your favorite teacher when you were in primary school and why?

BH: I wanted to be a teacher, especially a theatre teacher, because of Wes Knape. He was my drama teacher at Laney, and he called me to see if I would take over his job when he retired in 2011. I was teaching physical education at the time (I know—odd combo) and thought there was no way I could do this. It is the absolute best professional decision I have ever made.

Also, I would have to say Mrs. Ruby Sutton, who recently retired from Laney as well. I did my student teaching with her back in 2002, and the things I learned from her then are still shaping me as a teacher.

e: Why did you want to become a teacher?

BH: Oddly enough, when I was 18 years old I decided I wanted to be the theatre teacher at Laney High School. I went around my elbow to get to my butt in that process, but here I am now. I love sharing and learning from others. I run a karate school here in town (Cape Fear Isshin-Ryu), teach Sunday school and coach multiple sports. I love it all, though—teaching theatre has been the absolute best.

e: What’s next for you at Laney? Next productions, etc?

BH: We actually rehearse over the summer! My honors class does anyways. So we start working on our 2019 competition plays.: “The Hearing” and “In the Game.”  I wrote them both for this group, but both have now been published by Eldridge Plays and Musicals. Seriously looking forward to getting started on these pieces!
—Shannon Gentry

BEST RADIO STATION & MORNING SHOW: 98.3 THE PENGUIN & THE MORNING CHILL

BEST WEBSITE: PORTCITYDAILY.COM

Journalism can be a tough and thankless job—most especially these days as accredited publications and journalists combat bad actors and spreaders of false information. Along with the long hours and unpredictable nature of the job, it’s no wonder Port City Daily’s Ben Schachtman has a terrible putt-putt game. As it stands, out of everyone at the Local Voice family (including The Dude and The Penguin radio stations), Schachtman rarely makes it past the first round of most office tournaments.

“The office champion is actually ‘American Idol’ winner Phillip Phillips,” PCD’s managing editor offers. “He came by to do an in-studio appearance at The Penguin before a Greenfield Lake show while a putt-putt tournament was about to start. We tried to cajole him into playing and he was a good sport about it. Then he sank putt after putt, wiping the floor with our previous champions before heading downtown to play his show. So, yup, there it is: Phillip Phillips, Putt-Putt King of Commonwealth Drive.”

Managing editor is a relatively new position for Schachtman since last year’s readers’ choice win for Best Website, of which they took home again in 2019. Mini-golf aside, PCD’s new team keeps their giant editorial whiteboard full of compelling story ideas, reported on by Schachtman, Johanna Ferebee, Mark Darrough and assistant editor Michael Praats.

“I’m technically the ‘great overseer’ [of the website]—can I get that on my business card?—in the sense that I most often push the little blue ‘publish’ button,” Schachtman quips. “But I get a lot of help from my assistant editor, and beyond that we routinely have newsroom conversations about what to run when, as well as things like how to approach, report and lay out stories. It’s a lot of teamwork.”

However, the most notable change for PCD this past year was their move to a subscription model. While readers can click on four articles a month for free, for $8.95 PCD subscribers get unlimited article access. It was a move from which a lesson was learned:

“People have serious feelings about their local news (and whether they think they should have to pay for it),” Schachtman says. “We certainly got our fair share of strongly worded letters. But we’ve also had a lot of support from people who are willing to invest in local journalism.”

While content is a driving force for online engagement, according to Schachtman Port City Daily’s approach is key to clicks. He and his team live in ILM and are impacted by the same issues as their readers. Therefore, they are invested in finding answers to questions readers would ask if they could.

“And we try to be responsive,” Schachtman continues. “You can call us, email us, tweet at us—yes, even troll us on Facebook—and we almost always answer. A lot of good stories come out of that relationship; I hope people never stop reaching out to us.”

Port City Daily covers everything from local news in health and environment to government accountability. They write about new businesses opening and even where to find food trucks every week.

“Whether it’s following up on the WPD officer who lied to try and intimidate a driver out of filming a traffic stop, or the $60-million battle over H2GO, or the relationship between developers and the city,” Schachtman lists, “it’s the kind of things people should know about (at least in my opinion). . . . Though, this year I don’t think anything hit me harder personally than the stories coming out of Hurricane Florence.”

Schachtman says he and his staff, for the most part, stayed in ILM to weather the storm. They lived through what they reported on—everything from looting and homes destroyed and lives lost, to how they saw the best of humanity: fast-acting first responders, utility repair crews, neighbors helping neighbors. “Total strangers who kept us safe, got the lights (and the AC!) back on, fed us, and helped each other out,” he notes. “Those stories will stay with me for a long time.”

—Shannon Gentry

BEST THEATRE PRODUCTION (MUSICAL): “MAMMA MIA”

Musicals are the most popular form of theatre on Wilmington’s local scene. With easily more than a couple dozen being staged annually, the competition to choose the best is hefty. For 2019 the win was clear-cut: Opera House Theatre Company’s Greek-inspired, ABBA-infused “Mamma Mia!”

“It is very rewarding to see a production we loved and really worked hard on be nominated and win for Best Musical,” director Ray Kennedy tells encore. Kennedy calls it especially rewarding for the actors, creative team and crew who worked so diligently to entertain theatre patrons of Wilmington.

Kennedy has been working with OHTC for the better part of two decades, helping the company ensure entertainment doesn’t lack in the least. In fact, they’re opening “42nd Street” this week (see preview on page 28). Then Kennedy will take the company into its next show with “Five Guys Named Moe.”

“I have some many of my friends from the production 10 years ago back in town, including Colby Lewis who you know from ‘Hamilton’ in Chicago and as a recurring role on the TV series ‘Chicago Med.’ It is going to be a great show and we have a really great band as well.”

The band is what drove “Mamma Mia!” into sheer popularity. The music of ABBA provides the score, which was composed by band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus in 1999 before its famed musical film hit the screen in 2008.

“For the vocals, dancing and orchestra to come together was thrilling,” Kennedy tells. “We had an excellent orchestra,  great singers and our two sound designers did a really amazing job!”

Artistic director Justin Smith tripled the sound budget, even. Smith knew the audience absolutely had to hear clear and balanced vocals through the show.

“There is a lot of off-stage singing so we created a stage-right sound booth backstage and also had four great pit singers who you never saw,” Kennedy says, “plus a larger orchestra than usual by Lorene Walsh at the helm.”

The show opened the new year and actually was set-designed with a little help from that horrendous storm that hit Wilmington in fall 2018. Hurricane Florence brought with it details needed to bring to life a Greek vista on Thalian’s main stage.

“Vines and tree branches came from Tina Leak and Justin driving around Wilmington in his truck, picking up branches from the debris of Flo,” Kennedy says, “and then Tina hot glued them to the villa, added silk flowers so we could have  actually have bougainvillea vines—that’s a lot or work and attention to detail!”
While professionalism often exceeds expectations from OHTC shows, the cast  always is the make or break detail of importance. Kennedy says they all poured their souls into song, dance and acting. And the pace at which they had to keep up wasn’t without its own set of challenges.

“The very fast set move and costume changes from the last scene (the wedding) into the big ABBA music finale impressed,” Kennedy tells. “It happened in less than a minute and without the synchronization between the crew backstage, Alice Sherwood the stage manager and our wonderful dressers offstage, it just would not have happened.  But it did—every night! I held my breath at that moment every show!”

The memorable characters—played by community theatre stalwarts like LaRaisha Dionne, Kendra Goehring-Garrett, Samantha Rae Mifsud, Eric Johann, Jamey Stone and Ashley Strand—and complex harmonies oftentimes can be intimidating to pull off successfully in “Mamma Mia!” But they did it, which is why the Best Musical 2019 award is something Kennedy holds dear.

“Mamma Mia!” won Best Musical by 64% of the votes on the readers’ poll.

—Shea Carver

BEST COMEDY TROUPE: PINEAPPLE-SHAPED LAMPS

BEST LOCAL INDIE FILM: “CLASS DISMISSED”

As a part-time instructor who’s taught online and hybrid courses, Devin DiMattia and Tony Choufani’s “Class Dismissed” short film had me ROLLING. This year’s Best Local Indie Film features students Jason, Samantha and Steve logged in for a video Skype conference with their professor, who has to patiently welcome each pupil who is either just waking up or doesn’t even have clothes on.

“I thought the whole point of taking an online class was so I don’t have to wear any clothes? Right? That’s why I’m here, that’s why we’re all here…” Steve (Drew Scheid) questions in protest. Steve lives with his step dad and audiences get to see that dysfunctional, albeit hilarious, relationship unfold as class goes on.

From there audiences see characteristics we’re all too familiar with from one classroom or another, from the slacker to the entitled. Lucy O’Brien plays Samantha, a rude, self-absorbed 20-something in line at the coffee shop when she logs into class.

“[Samantha] is definitely drawn from real-life people I’ve encountered during my years as a barista,” notes DiMattia, also with Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (Best Comedy Troupe). “And I absolutely love the manic energy [Lucy] brought to the part. . . . A while none of this is based on any personal experience I had with online classes, I did draw a lot of ideas from PSL’s awkward attempts at video conferencing that we have had over the years.”

DiMattia was a UNCW Seahawk when online classes were still in their infancy and this sketch was originally titled “University of Phoenix Online” for those online courses relentlessly advertised at the time. He wrote the first draft in 2014 and it sat in “development hell” thereafter, until another PSL member, Jordan Vogt, asked DiMattia to revisit the script for Cucalorus.

“I happily accepted,” he continues. “That live performance gave everyone a chance to improv lines and change things around. . . . And then when it came time to do the film version, Tony really let the actors run wild with their characters, indulging some of their crazier impulses. Most of what Drew Scheid and Alex Denning do as Steve and his stepdad, Ron, was completely unscripted.”

Folks can see DiMattia act in another self-directed short for PSL, “An Important Message from Marie Callender’s” recently released on their YouTube channel. “I would also love to work with Tony on another sketch,” DiMattia adds. “It was an amazing experience, and I’m glad so many people seemed to enjoy it, too!”

“Class Dismissed” won Best Local Indie Film by 44% of the vote.

—Shannon Gentry

BEST ACTOR: JEFF PHILLIPS

Jeff Phillips is an institution on ILM’s theatre scene. In 30 years, he’s played around 30 roles. Though it may not seem like a lot compared to other actors, the roles have come with a lot of grit—and even drag, like Edna in “Hairspray” and most recently Bernadette Basinger in “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.”

Currently, Phillips has been focusing on his husband, Andy, who’s battling Stage IV colon cancer. Together, they’ve been learning to enjoy all of the small things in daily life. It’s also led him an awakening for Phillips’ future, one inspired by an old acting teacher, Tommy Hull. “God rest his soul,” Phillips adds. “When I did a show with Tommy, he would say, ‘Jeff, you are missing a moment. If you don’t take it then I will.’ That was survival of the fittest 101 theatre education. I hope I’m healthy enough to say [the same] to younger actors.”

Phillips tied with Patrick Basquill for Best Actor (34%) and was kind enough to answer questions for us about his acting career in Wilmington.

encore (e): When and why did you decide to become an actor?

Jeff Phillips (JP): My first “acting gig” was in the church. From a young age, I knew how to deliver a scripture reading or sing a hymn to make people take notice and think. We would also do “scripted” Christian musicals. My first foray into “secular” theater was as a senior in high school—the male lead in “Dames At Sea.” Nina Lynn Blanton (now Nina Repeta) was my leading lady; we were the singing-and-tap-dancing sweethearts, Ruby and Dick.  I remember it was the first time where I tried musical comedy and got huge laughs. I was bitten.

e: How many roles would you guess you’ve done, and what have been some of your most memorable ones and why?

JP: The roles I have been fortunate enough to do have been grand: Edna in “Hairspray”; Archibald in “The Secret Garden”; Billy Flynn in “Chicago.” The most memorable was Coach in Steve Cooper’s “The Lambda.” I did that show off and on for almost four years. It was way ahead of its time and done in the reverse round in the middle of an active bar. The songs were amazing and it was the first time I ever did a show in drag, which was tough on me and made me confront a great number of personal issues.

I had an emotional breakdown dress rehearsal night and on stage as I was about go into a huge power ballad that closed Act 1. Lou Criscuolo, who directed it, came onto the stage and wrapped his arms around me and started hugging me. He then started whispering, and I took a moment before we started the number all over. It was a different voice and a different power I then discovered.

Audience reaction was overwhelming! The last time I did the show 25 years ago and I still get asked about it or someone shares a memory with me.

e: Most challenging show to date and why? Most fulfilling?

JP: The most challenging and fulfilling show to date was playing Sweeney in “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” There was a great deal of expectation on that show, and I went back into voice lessons to learn how to sing the role. I had been cast in what was perceived to be “out of my wheel house.” In fact, my encore review was lukewarm at best (my memory is long!). [Ed. note: We remember, too, Jeff and love you no matter what.]  However,  I still loved it and it sold well. I would not change one thing about my performance or that experience.  It was a beautiful show.

e: Is there a role you still wish to do?  

JP: I think I would still like to be able to give a go at Albin in “La Cage aux Folles.”

e: What do you love about community theatre?

JP: I think it is a true test of talent. The budgets are not huge, the rehearsals are not long. It forces you to not depend on a crashing chandelier or automated moving sets or million dollar lighting schemes to convey the story. You have to put the work in and find ways for your instrument to be the primary story teller.

e: Have you taken your acting to bigger platforms? Do you have a desire?  

JP: I have worked regionally in New York. For a long time, people kept trying to convince me that NYC should be my dream. My dream always was to create a life in a smaller town with family and friends I love and to be a contributing member to my community. I am living my dream. There is nothing bigger for me. Wilmington, Opera House, and Thalian Hall have been my Broadway. I am the luckiest guy, ever.
—Shea Carver

BEST ACTORS: Best Actor Jeff Phillips (who tied with Patrick Basquill) and Best Actress Kendra Goehring-Garrett beam with their awards. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST ACTORS: Best Actor Jeff Phillips (who tied with Patrick Basquill) and Best Actress Kendra Goehring-Garrett beam with their awards. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST ACTRESS: KENDRA GOEHRING-GARRETT

Kendra Goehring-Garrett has been singing and dancing across many stages in town, in everything from “Chicago” to “Carousel” to “Kiss Me Kate” to “Evita.” In 2019 she scored Best Actress on encore’s readers’ poll by 36%. Studying musical theatre at Elon after training in dancer her entire life has culminated in sweeping opportunities in the arts. We caught up with Goehring-Garrett in the midst of her rehearsals for Opera House’s June 5 opening of “42nd Street.”

encore (e): When and why did you decide to become an actress?

Kendra Goehring-Garrett (KGG): I started performing at a very young age, elementary school, and I will never forget standing on the stage for the first time. I was hooked! I knew I wanted to do “that” the rest of my life. Being on a stage, portraying a character, the study it took going into that, truly everything about performing just felt right! It felt like that’s what I was meant to do, to share. Truthfully, that’s how I see it, it’s a part of me that I enjoy sharing with others. I am a people pleaser, so making people happy, smile, feel something is what I love to do.

e: How many roles would you guess you’ve done, and what have been some of your most memorable?

KGG: Too many to count! I have been very fortunate to portray so many awesome women! Some favorites include: Violet Karl in “Violet”—this one will go down in the books as one of my all-time faves. That music. Just amazing! And Laurey in “Oklahoma!” loved her, but more than that, it was one of the first times I felt truly at ease onstage. I felt her, I felt extremely connected to her and her story.

[Playing] Donna Sheridan in “Mamma Mia” [made me feel] like a rock star singing ABBA. And getting to do “The Winner Takes It All” was very poignant in my life at the time!

Honestly, Shea, the list could go on and on. I’ve been extremely fortunate. I don’t take any of it for granted—continuously striving to be truthful and grow with each show/role/experience. I have Wilmington theatre companies, directors, artistic directors, audiences, fellow performers, costumers, lighting designers, set designers, sound techs, and technical crew in general to thank!

e: You’re also a choreographer/dancer; what do you love about the combination of acting and dancing? How does it fuel your creativity?

KGG: Oh, man—I love (love, love) dancing! I feel very much at home when I’m dancing. There is something so pure and beautiful about letting go of yourself through movement and music. I absolutely love creating the dance story for a show! I truly believe dancing is acting/expressing, so it’s just as important to telling the story as dialogue or music might be. This is one thing I want to continue to learn about and to grow as a choreographer. It helps working with such great choreographers like Ray Kennedy, Judy Greenhut, Tina Leak. I learn so much by watching them.

e: What role is on your bucket list?

KGG: I’ve played so many great roles, but I’d love to tackle Kate in “Kiss Me Kate” again. I’d love to play Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly”; one day Mama Rose in “Gypsy” and one I can do now, Bobbi, in the new gender flip of “COMPANY.”

e: What do you love about community theatre?

The community aspect; I get to work alongside extremely talented people whom might also be an accountant or teacher or preacher. The fact we all have other lives and jobs, but love to perform, and come together to put on a show in “our spare time” is amazing. It also makes me appreciate it all that much more. It’s not just with the cast—everyone from the ushers to the crew. It’s like a family.

I include our audience in on that too. We are all coming together to experience something. To share something. To feel something. In those few hours, we are all together, there is a true give and take. It’s palpable, alive, electric, and we all share in that, which in the end, connects us all. In the truest sense we grow as a community through theatre and in that time we have together.

e: Have you taken your acting to bigger platforms—any desire to do so?

KGG: Prior to moving to Wilmington and calling it home, I worked professionally. I have been here for 15 years now, and I have worked some in film and other regional theaters. I have recently applied/auditioned for graduate programs to further my study in acting. So my plan is to get into a school either this fall or fall of 2020. I’m putting that into the universe! [laughs]

e: Short-term and long-term goals?

KGG: I’m playing Anytime Annie and dancing more in “42nd Street” than I think I ever have! More tapping for sure. (Everyone come see it!)

Long term: Once I receive my MFA, I would like to return to professional acting and eventually teach—either in a performing arts style school or at the collegiate level. Goals—big goals, but I know I can tackle them.
—Shea Carver

BEST NEWSCAST: WECT

In the past encore has discussed how new media is changing the way news is delivered and consumed with WECT—encore readers’ Best Newscast. Whether delivering breaking news or severe weather alerts, viewers expect to be in the know anywhere and everywhere—on smartphones, tablets and through digital streaming services.

“That’s why we’re constantly working to keep up with the latest trends in technology to stay ahead of the curve and deliver the news and weather people expect—only in a new format,” says WECT’s news director Brad Myers. “We are the first (and the only) news outlet that is available to our viewers on Roku and Amazon Fire. That’s where our WECT Digital Studio has helped bridge the gap . . . to get critical information into the hands of our viewers faster and more efficiently.”

For the past 65 years, WECT has delivered on stories and issues that matter most to families in southeastern North Carolina with morning, afternoon and evening newscasts with Best Newscaster Frances Weller. As well folks can read and watch the latest stories posted daily to www.wect.com, Facebook, Twitter and social media apps.

In addition to double digit awards from encore readers, WECT won 2019’s Regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) in Excellence in Innovation. “We take our responsibility of delivering news and weather coverage to the people of the Cape Fear seriously,” Myers says, “and being recognized for our hard work is a reminder of our commitment to the community. We can’t thank our viewers enough, and are proud to serve the community we know and love.”

The most compelling stories reported on this past year, of course, include coverage of Hurricane Florence recovery and rebuilding efforts. As well, in the wake of Florence, WECT wanted to be a part of recovery efforts with the #CapeFearStrong Telethon for the American Red Cross. “Our community overwhelmingly responded,” Myers recalls, “with over $350,000 raised during the #CapeFearStrong Telethon; by volunteering time, food and talent for our First Responder Thank-You Picnic; and by donating a record-shattering amount of toys and bicycles for Holiday Smiles and Weller’s Wheels last year. I felt a tremendous amount of pride seeing how we all came together after the storm.”

Other ways WECT is getting involved with the community is their Highway 6 live broadcasts, which are aimed at showcasing unique and beloved businesses, locations and tourism across Cape Fear cities and towns. “With so many new families moving into our area, it’s a great way to let them know about the many different attractions each town has to offer,” Myers notes.

Myers also points to WECT’s  important investigative journalism as well. “We worked hard to uncover information on the White Oak Dike and what ultimately led to flooding and emergency issues in Kelly following Hurricane Florence,” Myers offers. “Of course, we were a major player in the recent NC-9 election fraud investigation. We wanted to make sure each vote counted and voters did not feel like their voices were not being heard.”

WECT walked away with 67% of votes for Best Newscast.

—Shannon Gentry

ON THE NEWS: Frances Weller accepts her award for Best Newscaster and for WECT’s Best Newscast. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

ON THE NEWS: Frances Weller accepts her award for Best Newscaster and for WECT’s Best Newscast. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST NEWSCASTER: FRANCES WELLER

Frances Weller is synonymous with WECT and local news coverage in Wilmington. The award-winning news anchor’s philanthropy work is known far and wide, too—Weller even secured auction items for encore’s Bestival Bid to benefit DREAMS Center for Arts Education at this year’s inaugural Bestival! Once again readers have deemed Frances Weller Best Newscaster by 40% of the vote in this year’s Best Of Awards. Here’s what’s new with Weller…

encore (e): What were the big stories this past year you covered? Which were the most meaningful to you; why?

Frances Weller (FW): By far Hurricane Florence was the big story. Coverage of that storm was a defining moment in the WECT newsroom. It was a story that had tremendous impact on all of us as journalists, on and off the air. We literally lived at the TV station for days. While I had experienced major hurricanes in the past, including Hurricane Fran in 1996, I never witnessed anything quite like Florence. It was fascinating to watch the young reporters tell the stories before, during and after the storm. It was a story that not only impacted us professionally, but personally, too. Those of us with family in town had to accept them leaving Wilmington to seek a safer area. It was difficult, very difficult. We had a job to do, though, so once we got in hurricane mode, it was non-stop until the end. It was a defining moment because our skills as journalists were put to the ultimate test. I’m extremely proud of how we covered that now historical hurricane. I believe our viewers appreciated our commitment to keeping everyone updated around the clock. It was, indeed, a defining moment for WECT.

e: Why is it important to you to continue to support the community and be involved in the way you are, a la Fran’s Fans and the like?

FW: Interesting you should ask as I was thinking about this earlier today. I smile when I hear people say they appreciate the work that I do in the community—especially the philanthropy work. I smile because it’s not me! It’s our caring community. I just have a gift for being able to ask people to help and they usually respond in a big way! The number of years I’ve been with WECT and the loyalty of so many viewers has afforded me that opportunity. I’m really not the one making the difference, though. It’s the scores of people who buy fans for Fran’s Fans, bikes for Weller’s Wheels, offer auction items for charitable organizations like DREAMS. They are the philanthropists. I’m just the familiar face, the woman who comes into their homes everyday who can say, “please help.” I’m blessed—we’re blessed—that they always do.

e: Are there other charity events you’re involved with in 2019 we should note for readers?

FW: Yes! The Willie Stargell Celebrity Invitational [November 8-10] is near and dear to my heart. Willie Stargell was my brother-in-law, married to my twin sister, Margaret. Willie died from kidney disease in 2001. In 2002, Margaret started what is now an annual event to raise money for local people living with kidney disease. Willie played major league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Many of the celebrities who come in for the Stargell Invitational are retired professional athletes including players from MLB, the NFL and the NBA.

It’s not a charity, but a challenge I’m looking forward to this year. LaMaine Williams, voted by encore readers as Best Personal Trainer, is my personal trainer. He and I do annual fitness challenges. Last year we challenged all of Blair Elementary School to do squats. This year we have something really big on the radar. I’m really looking forward to that challenge. Stay tuned.

e: What are some upcoming segments or stories you’re looking forward to reporting on?

FW: In addition to my nightly anchoring duties, I am WECT’s Community Relations Manager. To give you an example of what I do in that position, after Hurricane Florence, I organized a telethon for the Cape Fear Chapter of the American Red Cross. That one-day event raised over $355,000! I also organized a first responders thank-you dinner and was able to get Governor Roy Cooper to come to Wilmington for that event, which was held at Hugh McRae Park. I’m also in charge of our “Highway 6” segments where we take our newscasts on the road starting with “Carolina in the Morning” through the evening news at 6 p.m. I’m supercharged about expanding that role and strengthening the bond between WECT and the community.

e: Just out of curiosity, what are you doing with your massive collection of “e” awards?

FW: Right now I have them displayed around my desk in the newsroom. Sometimes when we take live shots from our newsroom, you can see them on TV during the news. I’m thrilled to say I have so many now that I’m going to need more space! I’m not bragging. I’m just extremely blessed to have received the award for so many years. I absolutely love my encore awards. It’s not just a badge of honor—it’s a tremendous source of pride.
—Shannon Gentry

BEST FILMMAKER: HONEY HEAD FILMS

Honey Head Films is a small, all-female-led production team run by creative producer Kristi Ray and creative media director Erika Edwards. Founded on community, Ray and Edwards wear multiple hats to create compelling visual content—from narrative films to music videos, documentaries to commercials. Honey Head Films is being recognized as Best Filmmaker in 2019, taking in 51% of the votes from encore readers.  We interviewed the team to get an idea of what they’re currently working on and how Honey Head came to be.

encore (e): Tell us about your team and who makes up Honey Head.

Kristi Ray (KR): The Honey Heads produce, cast, write, direct, shoot and edit—often collaborating with fellow creatives in the industry along the way. This resourceful outlook, coupled with a counter-culture attitude and daring sense of initiative, is what sets Honey Head apart. We specialize in magical connections with tangible results, from concept to post.

Whether you’re a client, an actor, a crew member, a viewer … you’re like family to us. Honey Head is more than just a production company; it’s a tribe.

e: Why was it important to established Honey Head as a female-led company in the film industry when you formed in 2016?

Erika Edwards (EE): We founded Honey Head Films after realizing there was a demand in our community for a fresh approach to independent film and media production. Bringing women to the forefront on both sides of the camera naturally became our goal because we love telling female-centric stories! The true grit of the South permeates much of the narrative work we do and is often a basis of inspiration.

KR: By establishing ourselves as a team of women on a mission to empower a younger generation of female cinematographers, directors, writers, gaffers and editors, we feel a dedication to Wilmington that goes beyond filmmaking. It is a movement toward narrowing the gender gap in creative media.

That being said, our approach to production remains extremely inclusive. Anyone is welcome in the Honey Hive!

e: What does a Best Of readers’ choice award mean to your team and HHF?

EE: Our company was founded on community. We are passionate about connecting independent filmmakers and collaborating with fellow creatives in what can seem like a daunting, exclusive industry.  We have experienced nothing but genuine support and love from Wilmington, which has opened unconventional doors and paved the way for a magical future. It proves that Honey Head is a production company rooted in—and made up of—community. As our sphere of influence continues to grow, an encore Best Of Award rightfully celebrates the many people in our community and beyond who have helped us get this far.

e: How have you grown since establishing yourselves?

KR: Honey Head has evolved from specializing primarily in low-budget shorts to an integrated creative production company capable of taking on feature-level projects from start to finish. We are currently working with three different writer/directors to develop their films over the course of the next year.

Projects now take us beyond the Port City—with clients and collaborators nationwide. At a grassroots level, we still feel rooted in the Wilmington community and enjoy our relationships with fellow production companies, including Lighthouse Films and Wallaby Media. Our growth over the past three years has gotten us to the point where we currently open to taking on new clients (feel free to get in touch)!

e: What current works can folks see from Honey Head?

EE: We love sharing our work and hearing inspiration for a new project! All of our public projects— films, music videos, commercials, docs—are available on our Vimeo page: www.vimeo.com/honeyheadfilms

e: Are there any upcoming events we should note to readers?

KR: We are premiering our two latest music videos at Brooklyn Arts Center on July 12 at Rhythm of the River—a ticketed event with live music from Striking Copper, Jake Newman and Travis Shallow [Ed. note: Striking Copper was a runnerup in encore’s Best Band 2019 category and Travis Shallow won Best Male Musician 2019].

e: What are other plans for 2019?

KR: We have been collaborating with several filmmakers from out of state to create compelling proof-of-concept trailers for feature films in order to secure funding. Honey Head is excited to be partnering with a diverse creative teams to bring these narrative movies to life from the ground up.
It is continuously inspiring to be surrounded by so many visionaries paving a way for themselves and their stories. These passion projects are the driving force of the independent film community, and it’s an honor we have been trusted to help bring so many to life.

We also have a feature of our own in the works, based off a high-performing Honey Head short film shot in 2017. Can you guess which one?
—Shannon Gentry

BEST MUSIC VENUE <600: BROOKLYN ARTS CENTER

Y’all remember back in January when Andy Frasco & the U.N. had the entire crowd circling him for a “Hava Nagila” dance on the Brooklyn Arts Center floor? It’s special performances like this in an intimate, historic venue that propelled BAC to the top of list for Best Music Venue at less than 600 capacity!

BEST MUSEUM: CAMERON ART MUSEUM

Wilmington has an array of museums, from historic (Bellamy Mansion) to fun (Children’s Museum of Wilmington) to wacky (Museum of the Bizarre). But the one that stands supreme on encore’s readers’ poll is the Cameron Art Museum.

Located on 17th Street Ext, the museum welcomes all to explore its current exhibits. “Minnie Clyde Annie Vollis” celebrates NC artists who impacted  our artistic output. Each was inspired by their dreams (Minnie Evans, Vollis Simpson), religious beliefs (Annie Hooper), or the natural world (Clyde Jones). The visionaries were considered outsiders in the world of art, going against the grain and mainstream to churn out inspirational paintings, sculptures and the like.
Also on exhibit are paintings from Wilmingtonian Clyde Howell in “From Sketch to Canvas.” The pop-up exhibit lands just in time for Howell’s 104th birthday and will continue through the summer of 2019.

On display through September is teamLab’s “A Time When Art is Everywhere.” It’s an interactive, hands-on exhibit, allowing folks to create their own sea creatures and scan them into the ocean. Visitors will watch them come to life on the walls of CAM in this fun digital format.

Adjacent to teamLab’s exhibit is Master printmaker Utagawa Hiroshige’s “Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō.” The LED lit panels, created by Gene Felice’s 3D Animation class at UNCW, celebrate storytelling through 55 prints from Hiroshige’s oban series, “Upright Tōkaidō,” created in 1855.

Though the visual exhibits always provide the main draw to CAM, its cultural programming keeps locals engaged through all arts. Their Concerts@CAM series gets underway this week, Thursday, May 23, and will feature Amanda Hoke and Domonique Launey playing “Landscapes: 20th century masterpieces for flute and piano” ($12-$17) live. Proceeds from ticket sales go back into the community and benefit CAM and Nourish NC (Best Nonprofit 2019; see page 11).

Folks also can embark on weekly exhibition tours, Wednesdays, 1:30 p.m., to learn about what’s on display at CAM. Plus, Sunday exhibition tours take place at 1:30 p.m.  CAM staff is launching a new Off the Record Tour on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. Attendees will get to hear off-the-cuff, irreverent stories about behind-the-scenes scenarios on current exhibits. Plus, there’s a happy hour in CAM Café beforehand.

The little ones won’t be left out of gaining artistic appreciation either. Families can enjoy Art Explorer on Thursdays at 10 a.m., for open studio time, story time, art and fun with friends; parents must be present.

On Thursday evenings, CAM Café is open for dinner and will have live music to accompany the colorful dishes that match the colorful walls. Perry Smith will play the 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., while dinner is served 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. and wine bottles are half off!

If looking at the art inspires the need to create (and, face it, that’s exactly what should be happening!), then head over to CAM’s Museum School and sign up for a class. They have adult studio classes in clay, prose and poetry, life drawing, portraiture, and more, plus kids studio classes (um, dragon drawing anyone?) and fun summer camps. They also offer weekend workshops for someone who can’t commit to months of classes. Currently, they’re offering Japanese calligraphy, urban sketching, paper art, botanical dyeing and print on natural fibers, and more!

Be sure to check out the CAM’s calendar online to keep up with all events. Admission to the museum is $5-$8 and yearly memberships begin at $55.

Cameron Art Museum collected 44% of the votes by encore readers in the Best Museum category
—Shea Carver

BEST WRITER: GWENYFAR ROHLER

2019’s Best Writer Gwenyfar Rohler recently wrapped up her Fact or Fiction series with encore in 2018. “Singing in the Dead of Night” was inspired by one of Wilmington’s most tragic film production stories, when actor Brandon Lee was accidentally shot and killed on set of 1994’s “The Crow.”

“I remember it vividly,” Rohler, barely a teenager at the time, tells. “It was a moment marked on my consciousness at a young age. I also remember many of the film people I knew talked about it in hushed tones and wouldn’t make eye contact if it was brought up around them. The shadow, the mystery and the unresolved pain around it is intriguing.”

Rohler was originally assigned to write a story about “The Crow” for another publication. However, they wanted something “lighthearted.” “I made it clear I could and would write a piece about it, but Brandon Lee lost his life filming that movie and there was nothing ‘lighthearted’ about it—at all,” she tells.

The unresolved mystery never held anyone responsible, which is one of the most disturbing aspects to Rohler. “When the DA’s office declined to press charges, Brandon’s mother sued the named individuals she held responsible for his death,” Rohler says, a part of the story that appears in “Singing in the Dead of Night.” “Part of the out-of-court settlement stipulated the film had to be finished and released, because her son gave his life for it—and it was not going to end on the cutting room floor.”

Rohler’s research was difficult, with many folks refusing to return phone calls or standing her up altogether. Still, Rohler came to realize how important and deeply impactful the events were, even 25 years later. “Almost everyone I spoke with who was there the night [Lee died] cried at some point during an interview,” she tells.

Folks can read “Singing in the Dead of Night” at encorepub.com—as well as Rohler’s other serial fact-or-fiction piece, “The Contract Killer.” Picking up encore weekly will allow readers to keep up with Rohler’s Live Local column, theatre and book reviews.  In the last year she’s interviewed fellow award-winning author Clyde Edgerton about his ongoing efforts with equality in NHC schools and the history of voting laws in North Carolina. She also returns to themes periodically, including the loss of NC’s film industry, the importance of elections not being a spectator sport and ongoing participation in democracy. And, of course, she’s always dishing on her ongoing VW project and historic renovations, as well as adventures with her life partner Jock and pup Hilda in 2019.

“I get a lot of mail about those stories,” she notes of the bus. “My renovation projects also generate a lot of mail (apparently we have a lot of readers with historic homes in their lives). . . . In the fall when the weather cools a bit, I am hoping to take Hilda in the VW Van to many of the NC state historic sites in the Eastern (read: flat) part of the state. . . . I harbor a small dream of taking Hilda to trace President Washington’s tour through NC.”

Rohler also is tasked with saying goodbye to community members we’ve lost, such as her recent memoriams on Bob Jenkins, Mr. Daughtry (the founder of Old Books) and Grenaldo Frazier.

“Those are really tough to write,” she admits. “But they are rewarding pieces to work on because they are the chance to celebrate the lives that shape our community. With so many people moving here, in some ways those pieces are the way to teach the memory of this place to new residents.”

Gwenyfar Rohler won Best Writer by 39% of votes.
—Shannon Gentry

 

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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