A new book authored by Thalian Hall Executive Director Tony Rivenbark uses 126 pages of photographs to illustrate the role of the historic stage in Wilmington’s political and cultural development.
“This theater, in this community, has an iconic stage. This book helps to celebrate the building and all the people throughout its history that have helped make it what it is,” Rivenbark said.
The story shared in the book shows the influence of Thalian Hall extends beyond the stage and productions it hosted. The building itself staged pivotal events in the city’s history.
“Not only is there a stage inside, but the outside of the building is a stage to some degree. You’ve had many, many activities on the steps and on the grounds of this building over its history,” he added.
The project began 35 years ago, when Rivenbark joined the staff of Thalian Hall and began collecting and curating an archive of the building’s history. He said the organization wanted to share the photographs in a book and the slim, image-driven format of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series provided the ideal medium.
“The main goal was just to give the ordinary person in Wilmington an accessible and inexpensive overview of Thalian Hall and what the building and its activities mean to this community,” Rivenbark said. “We came upon this idea of going through Arcadia to do something that was very readable, mostly photographs.”
Rivenbark supplemented photographs from the Thalian Hall archive with images, many previously unpublished, from Cape Fear Museum, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society and the New Hanover County Library to create a uniquely comprehensive account.
“This book is like a candy box that’s filled with images and little snippets of information that you won’t be able to find in one location,” Rivenbark said.
Rivenbark said he hopes people pick up the book and learn something new about the local landmark. While researching the story behind each photograph, he often learned something — as he did to discover the context of a photograph of a group of young people in period Swedish costumes supplied by The Ministering Circle.
Names were scrawled on the back of the photo without any indication of why its subjects wore the costumes. Rivenbark began searching for an answer to the question posed by the picture, ultimately confirming the picture’s origin in an 1896 event similar to a World Fair with performances and informational booths showcasing international customs and cultures.
“This picture has been sitting in a room for a hundred years and nobody knew exactly what it was. Now we know what the picture is, and that’s interesting,” Rivenbark said.
The book, released Aug. 11, is available for purchase locally at Thalian Hall as well as through Arcadia Publishing online or by calling (888)313-2665. The cost is $21.99.
Rivenbark will sign copies of his book on Aug. 17 at 3 p.m. in the Thalian Hall Ballroom and on Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the David Paynter Room of the Northeast Branch of the New Hanover County Library. He will speak briefly about the book at both events.