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Tony Rivenbark, pillar of Wilmington’s theatre community, dies at 74

Tony Rivenbark, director of Thalian Hall for 42 years.
Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts
Tony Rivenbark, director of Thalian Hall for 42 years.

Rivenbark was the head of the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, one of the nation’s oldest historic theatres, for over 40 years. He oversaw a multimillion-dollar renovation of Thalian Hall in the late 1980s and went on to become a veteran of hundreds of productions. A tireless actor, writer, producer, historian, and cultural touchstone for the region, Rivenbark was the recipient of several lifetime achievement awards.

Tony Rivenbark first appeared on stage at Thalian Hall in 1966 in the musical “Good News.” Two decades later, he would take the reigns of the theatre, spearheading a $5 million dollar restoration and expansion from 1988 to 1990, and another $3.6 million renovation in 2010 — part of a lifelong mission to restore Thalian Hall, built in 1858, to its original glory (and perhaps surpass it).

Rivenbark starred in off-Broadway roles, did 11 seasons at UNCW’s SRO Summer Stock, and overall was part of over 200 stage productions.

Rivenbark also had keen historical interests, authoring Images of America: Thalian Hall, a photographic historical account, in 2015. He curated a collection of artifacts for Thalian’s archives and advocated and researched to help preserve Thalian’s historic curtain, which was eventually restored by the Cameron Art Museum, and is now on public display.

Among other awards, Rivenbark received the Wilmington Lifetime Achievement for the Arts in 2004, the Most Enduring Contribution to Wilmington Theatre award in 2014, and the StarNews Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thalian Hall Trustee and New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple will serve as interim director while the board searches for a full-time replacement. All productions and events at Thalian will continue as scheduled, as would have been Rivenbark’s wish.