WILMINGTON — Wilmington College/Community Summer Theatre’s return July 15 and 16 after a pandemic-induced, three-year hiatus will celebrate the memory of the man most closely identified with what many describe as the annual cultural highlight of summer in Wilmington.
Steven F. Haines: Celebrating a Legacy of Heart and Music will delve into founding WCCST member Haines’ 40 years of directing summer shows. But this is more than a simple program of favorite musical numbers. Its concept and continuity tell a story of the arts in Wilmington and Haines’ key role from its inception to the 2022 edition — the 50-year anniversary.
A number of long-time Summer Theatre participants met prior to rehearsal July 5 to speak about the show and reminisce about their mentor and friend, who passed away in the fall of 2020.
“Steven was larger than life,” Matt Purkey said. “He godfathered the arts in Wilmington. We want to honor him with this show.”
Tricia Heys recalled first hearing about Haines’ golden touch with local theatre while she was in high school.
“I was a Massie girl and what Steven did at Wilmington High School was something we all looked up to.” Heys soon became a regular Summer Theatre cast member.
“Steven was about helping you become the best you could be. You learned so quickly from him,” she added, noting how impressed she was with the “camaraderie” that has surrounded Summer Theatre all these years.
Timothy Larrick said he had never acted in a show before Haines gave him that opportunity. He has since produced an annual community Christmas show and has been a mainstay on the local arts scene.
“I became an actor because of him. He taught me a lot and inspired me to do what I’ve done. There’s an attitude of professionalism here, high standards in the work that’s done,” he said. “That’s why I’ve always chosen to do summer theatre here — you have to put on your best performance.”
Mary Alexander said Haines often gave actors the license to explore their characters. “He trusted and believed in all his actors.”
Cherie Cooper-Darragh added, “He had a way of identifying talent you didn’t know you had.” Pat Ilg described Haines as a “pied piper for talent.” And Director Wynn Alexander noted, “He helped you get out of the way of yourself.”
Gina Beck recalled seeing Haines star in Summer Theatre’s 1986 production of Man of La Mancha. “I kept hearing from people,’ You’ve got to come to this show.’ I did and it was amazing! It was because of Steven’s energy I experienced in that performance that I came to Wilmington College.”
Piano accompanist Barbara Leeds also recalled that show: “His ‘Impossible Dream’ solo! He held the final note for so long. He reached so deep.”
Bekah Muchmore Wall recalled, as a high school student, “He just pulled me in. I remember him saying, ‘I made this scene for you — listen to this.’
She excelled in the arts at Wilmington College and is a Summer Theatre veteran of numerous shows and memorable performances. “There was a gravitational pull about him. He was a true educator through and through.”
Wynn Alexander recalled how Haines liked to direct shows that made you think, like Parade with its themes of inhuman behavior, racism and antisemitism. “Steven liked to tackle tough shows.”
Bryan Wallingford noted how both the College’s and community’s reputation for great theatre has led some to say there must be “something in the water.” He said that makes it seem like excellence is easily or magically achieved. “It’s not in the water,” he said. “It’s in the work. Through Steven and later Wynn, we learned how to work — and how to do good work.”
Cooper-Darragh added, “I know he’s gone but being here on this stage with all of you doesn’t really feel like he’s gone.” Purkey noted the “gravity” of the tribute show they are producing and how, with the return of Summer Theatre, one can’t help but channel all that Haines meant to their lives into their performance.
“We don’t want to disappoint him,” Mary Alexander added.
The show features favorite moments from favorite shows Haines directed, plus special narration and complementary musical and dance numbers performed in tribute.
No surprise to those who knew Haines, his love for Stephen Sondheim musicals is well-represented in the show with numbers from “Into the Woods”, “Forum”, “Follies”, “Sunday in the Park with George” and more.
WCCST invites Summer Theatre regulars, past participants, patrons, community members and Haines’ family to honor and celebrate his life and legacy. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. July 15-16 with doors opening at 6:45 p.m. There is no charge for tickets and no reservations or reserved seating.