On April 6, Greensboro’s acclaimed 21-year-old professional live theater company released the following statement:
Triad Stage regrets to announce the cancellation of its upcoming production of “The Cake” due to financial restraints. Additionally, the theater will be pausing ticket sales and subscriptions, as well as other non-essential operations, while we examine all options available to our organization at this time. Ticketing operations for the Eastern Music Festival are not affected.
“The Cake,” which would have been the final show of the company’s 2022-23 season, was in rehearsal and scheduled to open on May 2. A comedy about the clash between traditional southern values and a gay wedding, as well as the nature of love, family, and truly great baking, the play is by Winston-Salem native Bekah Brunstetter, producer and writer of NBC’s “This Is Us.” In any normal theatrical season, it might have resulted in a healthy turnout.
Like every live theater venue in the world, Triad Stage has not had a normal theatrical season in almost three years, but not all of its problems are due to the pandemic.
In late 2020, the local theatrical community was rocked by allegations of sexual abuse of college students and other young men by Triad Stage artistic director and co-founder Preston Lane. Multiple alleged victims, who spoke to a UNCG investigative committee, the Triad Stage board, and Triad City Beat reporter Jordan Green on conditions of anonymity, recounted being invited to one-on-one “mentoring” sessions in which Lane allegedly plied them with alcohol and insisted on giving them naked massages while showing them pornography. Lane taught acting and directing as an adjunct professor at UNCG until December 2019
“I would like you to know that the university has been aggressively working on this issue since alumni brought it to our attention in August,” wrote Bruce McClung, dean of the UNCG College of Visual and Performing Arts, to University faculty and staff in November 2020. The Triad Stage board also launched its internal investigation.
Shortly after Triad City Beat’s reporting, Lane resigned from Triad Stage. Lane’s attorney told the press that Lane “denies any and all allegations of sexual abuse.” No charges were filed against him.
At the time of Lane’s November 2020 resignation, the company had already closed its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
In June of last year, the restructured company reopened for its 20th season of live performances and announced a greater focus on diversity. In October, Kate Holland became its new Executive Director, joining Artistic Director Sarah Hankins on its leadership team. Its season included the world premiere of Mike Wiley’s “Rebellious,” which followed the lives of four Bennett College Belles through the tumultuous years of the sit-in movement in downtown Greensboro. While the play was well received by those who saw it, ticket sales were less than the company hoped for.
On March 14 of this year, Triad Stage produced “The Revolutionists,” a dark comedy by Lauren Gunderson about four women caught up in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. It closed on April 2 after 19 performances.
Last week, Triad Stage hosted a giveaway and sale at its warehouse at the Nussbaum Center for Creative Leadership on S. Elm-Eugene Street. Costumes, props, and pieces of sets were mostly given away for free, while tools and supplies were sold.
In a statement to News 2, Holland said that the warehouse clearance was not a sign of permanent closure, but “spring cleaning” that had been long-scheduled. “It’s to clean out the space that has been a storage unit for us during the pandemic. We had intended to do it this summer, but we’d rather do it in the spring when it’s cooler. This does not have anything to do with where we are in our business strategy.” She said that the company had long intended to close the warehouse, as it was not only an unnecessary expense, but not an optimal storage space, due to the lack of climate control.
The event was intended for all weekend, but only lasted from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, as the unexpectedly heavy turnout emptied the space.
On Monday, Holland emailed YES! Weekly the following statement about Triad Stage’s recent past and uncertain future:
There are many factors that over time have led Triad Stage to this moment. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of the founding leadership (including sexual misconduct accusations against one, which were denied), and longtime budgetary deficits. In normal circumstances, any one of these would significantly impact the operations of a nonprofit theatre company. We have been managing in the shadow of all three.
Professional regional theatre is struggling all over the country. The pause in operations due to the pandemic is primarily to blame, but also the cost to produce the kind of high-quality theatre audiences came to expect has nearly doubled, qualified labor is challenging to find — even with new DEIA and work culture initiatives in place, and audiences have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. This is not specific to Greensboro and Triad Stage.
Currently, our Board of Directors is working on a strategic plan for the future of Triad Stage. I’m proud of the work we have done this year despite our challenges, and I look forward to hearing what direction the Board will take us in.
Last week, Triad Stage board co-chair Deborah Hayes addressed the News & Record question as to whether her organization’s financial woes were created or exacerbated by competition from the Tanger Center.
“Touring houses are also important resources for live performance consumption for all communities, and I stand by the belief that Triad Stage and the Tanger Center are meant to complement each other, rather than compete,” said Hayes to reporter Nancy McLaughlin. “Still, it is a fact that there is a finite number of entertainment dollars available in any community, and to a certain extent we all compete for our share of them.”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.
When we first moved here, Triad Stage was one of the most important pieces of our cultural experience.
Stuff happened even before COVID, and then COVID nailed the coffin shut. I would love to see it come back. When we first joined, it was about entertainment. Later, it was about issues. On a weekend night, after a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, I don't want to listen to issues (OK, maybe once a year). If the remaining people of Triad Stage are interested in bringing back theater back to GSO, I'd like to join them.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.