WILMINGTON — While only in his current position at the Murphy Theatre for just a few months, the new executive director recognizes the potential it has — while respecting its rich history.
“You want to respect the traditions and things that have brought people here and kept them here,” said Steve Burnette. “But there’s more we could bring. Not replace, but supplement.”
He hopes that by creating a wider variety of activities and shows, they can draw in a larger demographic to the Murphy.
“What I’d like to get across is that people have brought ideas up to us, and we don’t throw them away. We listen,” he said. “In our membership campaign, we included a survey, because you should listen to your customer.”
Burnette said 75 percent of those surveys were completed and returned, with most respondents saying things were fine but also with many helpful suggestions.
He knows that the dedication to the Murphy from locals is what has kept it going over 100 years, and it’s the locals who will make sure its future is secure.
“I think listening to the people is very important,” he said. “I’ve met some incredibly nice people here. Not just the (Murphy) staff and board of directors. Just people who have been very eager to see what happens.”
Live theatre productions and much more liveliness — including the famous and the soon-to-be (intentionally) infamous — will transform the historic Murphy Theatre stage into a regional hub for entertainment in 2022 under the watch of Burnette.
After 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.
Burnette, an Ohio native, was hired to lead the Murphy Theatre after a nationwide search brought him here from Maine. He has 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 hit the ground running last fall and has already implemented what he’d promised with many new programs and shows.
• The Murphy Stage Company debuts with a live one-night-only fundraiser production of the funny but heart-touching “Love Letters” on Saturday night, March 12. It stars Amy Yasbeck — who returns to her Uncle Charlie Murphy’s theatre and who married actor John Ritter at the theatre in 1999 — as well as Burnette in the “chronicle of the choices they made and divergent paths taken, enveloped in an unbreakable bond, even to the end.”
• The debut of a live radio show emanating from the Murphy stage titled “The Foot in Mouth Radio Theatre” featuring the tunes of The Desperate Altos and the original comedy “Search for the Hospital”. the theatre-of-the-air will be performed the first Saturday of the month September through December.
Movie nights (and days)
Movie events are returning to the Murphy, including:
• “Sunday Come in from the Cold Family-Friendly Matinee Series”at 2 p.m. each Sunday in January. Tickets are $5 day of the event. Upcoming are: “Happy Feet” Jan. 16; “The Lego Batman Movie” Jan. 23; and “The Muppets” movie from 2011. “Babe” kicked things off last Sunday.
• ”Selma” at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
• “Python-Mania” — All things Monty Python: at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 is “The Meaning of Life; 5 p.m. Feb. 5 is “The Holy Grail” followed at 8 p.m. with “And Now for Something Completely Different”; and at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 is “The Life of Brian.”
• “Mock-Fest” celebrates the “mockumentary”: at 8 p.m. April 22 is “A Mighty Wind”; at 5 p.m. April 23 is “Best in Show” followed at 8 p.m. by “This is Spinal Tap”; and at 2 p.m. April 24 is “Waiting for Guffman.”
• “Blazing Brooks” celebrates the best of Mel Brooks: 8 p.m. June 24 is “Blazing Saddles”; 5 p.m. June 25 is “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” followed at 8 p.m. by “Young Frankenstein”; and at 2 p.m. June 26 is “The Producers.”
• “LAUGH-You” improvisational comedy classes taught by Burnette, who earned his improv chops at Chicago’s Second City Conservatory. The classes are for anyone who wishes to get started in improv but is also great for any youth or adult who is awkward with public speaking, and/or those who wish to improve thinking on their feet, trusting your fellow ensemble members, and learning relaxation techniques — just a few of the things to be taught in the first class. Classes begin in April and will meet six times in each session, once a week for 90 minutes.
At Charlie’s Cast & Crew at the Murphy Theatre will be Monday Night Mischief:
• Smarty Pants Trivia is planned to begin the first Monday of each month beginning in February (Feb. 7); doors open at 5:45 p.m., questions start at 6:30 p.m. and “kick you out” by 8:30 p.m. Five bucks to play and reserve your spot early as it’s open to the first 30 smarty pants wanna-bees with fabulous prizes (for their limited budget) while enjoying popcorn, a hot pretzel and your favorite beverage served up by Bob Baylor, “Bartender to the Stars.”
• Karaoke Dokie — your chance to show off that shower voice from show tunes to big hair bands to classic to country — is planned to start the second Monday of the month beginning in March (March 14); doors open at 5:45 p.m., singing starts at 6:30 p.m. and they cut the mic at 8:15 p.m. Call ahead to reserve your spot because space is limited to the first 30 songsters.