WILMINGTON — The nationwide search for an executive director to take the Murphy Theatre to new heights brought dozens of qualified candidates from Los Angeles to Maine.
An exhaustive search by the specially appointed Murphy Theatre Executive Director Search Committee culminated in a recommendation, a resident of Maine — with deep, small-town Ohio roots — will lead the historic venue after the Murphy Board approved the recommendation.
Steve Burnette brings over 30 years of experience in the performing arts ranging from actor, writer, and improv comic to director and producer/executive producer to the founder and manager/director of regional theatres.
He is a graduate of the acclaimed Second City Conservatory in Chicago, and he studied acting at the Herbert Berghof Studios in New York City, writing at Playwright’s Horizon in New York City, and Comedy Technique at Manhattan Punch Line in New York.
Burnette is an Ohio native, born in Lima and raised in nearby Ottawa — population around 4,000. He graduated from Ottawa-Glandorf High School, where he was active in everything from athletics to theater to student government.
He and his wife are in the process of moving to this area; he will begin his Murphy duties in about a week.
In his in-person presentation to the search committee in late July, Burnette looked up at the grandeur of this historic theatre and stated that, should he be offered the job, he’d be “happier than a pig in slop!”
“I am beyond thrilled to join the Murphy family, and I look forward to helping turn this gem of a theatre into a destination location, not only serving the city of Wilmington and Clinton County, but reaching far beyond,” Burnette told the News Journal. “And to that, it is my hope and intention that Wilmington will experience the domino effect of our efforts; with the existing businesses being joined by additional new small businesses popping up to enjoy the fruit of our labor with the increasing number of folks coming downtown.”
“This opportunity to return home to Ohio has been something I’ve been looking for, for quite some time.”
A new chapter
Murphy Theatre Board of Trustees member Brad Reynolds, who led the search committee, told the News Journal, “I see Steve’s arrival as the start of a new chapter in the history of the Murphy Theatre. Over the years, everyone who has served the theatre in any capacity has left their mark. Volunteers, staff, performers, and even audience members have all been part of the rich history of this landmark. Steve is the latest who will have a chance to further highlight all that the Murphy has been and is to our town, county and state.
“Steve will bring a new look for Murphy programming and how the Theatre serves the community,” added Reynolds.
Murphy Board Member President Jennifer Williams said, “I couldn’t be happier that the Murphy Board of Trustees accomplished what we set out to do. We took the opportunity during our recent downtime to conduct a national search for our next executive director. Brad and the search committee did an excellent job of screening applicants to select top candidates to bring to Wilmington for an interview.
“Steve’s credentials are impressive and his experience with historic theaters and other venues worked in his favor,” Williams said. “He quickly recognized The Murphy’s potential to be a regional performance center that will help make Wilmington a destination for artists and audiences. We can’t wait for him to get started.”
Path to Wilmington
Steve Burnette’s professional resume includes:
• Founder, Chief Entertainment Officer and Executive Director — Maine Repertory Theater and The American Chamber of Comedy — Founder; he converted a 2,700 square foot former mill space into an intimate 70-seat theater. The theater’s primary focus was presenting and teaching original comedy.
• Managing Artistic Director — Toledo Repertoire Theatre; he led the artistic vision and business direction of the theatre, through seasons 79 to 81 and he headed up all public relations, development, advertising, and fundraising efforts
• Executive Producing Director — Legacy Theatre Company in Maine
• Executive Producing Director, City Theater Associates in Maine; He transformed “an otherwise underutilized, restored, 500-seat former opera house, into a well-established and respected performing arts venue” managing day-to-day operations.
He produced a number of independent theater projects, including several for the late President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. And he’s performed across the nation in regional theaters and even on several TV daytime dramas.
Burnette has a great appreciation of historic venues such as the Murphy, and an added appreciation for when communities step up to preserve them.
“That a community had the good sense to save such a beautiful landmark — when so many other cities sadly didn’t share that same vision and passion with their own movie houses — speaks volumes to me about the people of Wilmington,”” he said. “And I’ll do everything I can to see to it that the Murphy Theatre continues to stand out as a monument of Wilmington’s civic and cultural pride.
To the future
“We’ve got some exciting ideas in the early planning phase, including in-house original programming in the works that will only be available at the Murphy Theatre, productions that will certainly cause folks to sit up and take notice,” Burnette said. “The Murphy Theatre will have something for everyone, young and old. And not just shows, but some new educational components as well. And I look forward to partnering with other local artistic/theatrical professionals to bring some wonderful offerings to the Murphy stage. The more creative minds, the better. And you can expect a good portion of our programming to lean towards the humorous side of things. We need to laugh now more than ever.”
He added, “Expanding our programming brings with it a variety of opportunities for the community to roll up their sleeves and get involved; be it backstage, in front of the stage, onstage, and in front or the back of the house. But it all starts with kindness. If you can’t be kind, you can’t be here. Our friendly, civil approach to operations will be a top priority for me. The Murphy Theatre will be a welcoming place, looking to not only expand our programming, but the community’s involvement as well.
“Let’s get to work.”