At the annual meeting of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country (ATHC) on Wednesday, May 27, trustees elected new officers and board members as it prepares for its second year of operation following the successful October 2019 re-opening of the historic landmark in downtown Boone.
John Cooper, Chairman of Mast General Store, will step down from his leadership role as chair of the board of trustees on July 1, and will be succeeded by Keith Martin, Distinguished Professor of Theatre at Appalachian State University. Newly-elected trustees include Noelle Austin, Lauren Hayworth, Jesse Miller and Elaine Topodas.
Cooper concludes a momentous tenure that began in December 2011 with the organizational meeting of the “Save the Appalachian Theatre Task Force” and continued when the group incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 2012. Cooper led an eight year, ten million dollar campaign involving over 500 volunteers and thousands of individual donors to restore the art deco 1938 theatre back to its former glory.
“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” said Cooper. “This board, more than any I have had the pleasure to serve, has been energetic, dedicated, and persistent in restoring and reopening the Appalachian Theatre. It’s hard to believe that the inaugural board meeting was almost eight years ago on August 28, 2012. As I’ve said on many occasions, this is the best board on which I have ever served, and I look forward to continuing as a trustee for many years to come.”
A Hickory, NC native, Martin has served as vice chair of the ATHC since its inception. His career in the not-for-profit sector spans nearly 450 productions over 40 years and includes producing, artistic direction, choreography, and management in professional theatre, dance, opera, symphony, film, and television, for which he received a 2010 Emmy® Award. He came to Boone following a seven- year stint as managing director of Richmond Ballet in Virginia, and a 12-year tenure as producer/managing director of Charlotte Repertory Theatre.
“It’s a good thing Mast Store sells footwear,” Martin quipped, “because I have some mighty big shoes to fill following in the footsteps of my longtime friend and colleague, John Cooper.”
Cooper and Martin have worked together since the early 1990s when they were appointed by the Governor James B. Hunt to the board of the North Carolina Arts Council and subsequently served on its Executive Committee. “I am so pleased that Keith has agreed to serve as our chair,” said Cooper. “He has led and inspired us as head of our Operations and Programing Committee, and the theatre couldn’t have accomplished what it did without him. I look forward to working alongside Keith as we bring this wonderful institution back from the necessary closure due to the pandemic.”
Martin is being joined on the theatre’s executive committee by vice chair Gail Hearn, a civic volunteer and activist who has served as the board’s secretary for five years; treasurer Brady Combs, a partner with the CPA firm Combs, Tennant, & Carpenter, P.C.; secretary Susan McCracken, EdD, Director of Career Development and Economic Engagement at Appalachian State University; attorney James M. Deal, Jr., partner with Deal, Moseley, & Smith, LLP; and John Cooper, past chair of the board.
“Our newcomers bring special talents, experience and enthusiasm to the board,” noted Cooper. Noelle Austin was born and raised in NC. Her granddad, Ned Austin was the first Daniel Boone in the local outdoor drama “Horn in the West.” Noelle grew up dancing at Northwestern Studio and doing musical theater with Blue Ridge Community Theater and Lees McRae Summer Theater, where she later attended college for Performing arts. Now she is a Yoga Therapist, offering therapy sessions and group classes from home, through Neighborhood Yoga, and throughout the region.
Lauren Hayworth was born in Satellite Beach, Florida, and earned a bachelor’s degree in choral music education from Florida State University before moving to Boone to study vocal performance at Appalachian. Lauren spent almost a decade working in administration at the university and is currently a full-time freelance teacher of voice, piano, guitar, and ukulele. She is also an active performing musician with close harmony trio The Mercury Dames, jazz combo Belleville Rendezvous, and folk band Odd and Even.
Jesse Miller is a commercial insurance agent serving the High Country since 2009. Jesse is a lover of performance art, music, the written word and the vibrant culture of our High Country. With a professional focus in risk management, Jesse has delighted in helping local small business thrive. Furthermore, with a heart toward the nonprofits of our area, Jesse has worked as a fundraising auctioneer for over one hundred causes and raised sums over $1,000,000 for local nonprofit organizations in the High Country.
Elaine Topodas moved to Blowing Rock with her husband, Jonathan, in 2012 and shortly thereafter became involved with In/Visible Theatre as choreographer and board member. She holds a master’s degree in movement and dance from Wesleyan University and served as choreographer and movement coach for community theaters in the Metro DC area and for several high schools in Connecticut and Virginia. She served on the Board of Dominion Stage in Arlington, VA and taught dance and creative process at Westminster School in Simsbury, CT.
At the annual meeting, Cooper recognized Eric Plaag for his service to the theatre and noted his lasting legacy with the archives and history committee. “Through his work with Phillip Arnold, an excellent documentary was produced that chronicles the colorful history of the App Theatre and its rising from the ashes in 2019. Eric helped guide the redesign of the theatre to reflect the art deco design of the original venue. He will be missed.”
Two outgoing members of the theatre’s executive committee were praised by Cooper for excellence in leadership, having served in their capacities since 2012. Vice Chair Frank Mohler, professor emeritus of theatre at Appalachian, “has been the glue that has held us together and kept us moving forward from the very beginning,” said Cooper. “His leadership during design and construction has been the guiding light, and we can never thank Frank enough for his dedication and perseverance.”
“CPA Bob Neill is an accountant with Gwyn R. Parsons, PLLC and has served as treasurer of the theatre since the inaugural meeting,” said Cooper. “He has kept us straight with filings and all the financial dealings necessary to keep this more than $10 million dollar project moving forward. Bob’s leadership and the unselfish contribution of time and talent cannot be understated.”
In closing, ATHC Executive Director Laura Kratt said, “It is an embarrassment of riches to have such incredible talent on our board of trustees to perpetuate the history and tradition of our venerable organization. Our continuing trustees provide continuity of leadership and institutional memory while our new board members bring fresh ideas and unique perspectives as working artists in the field and community volunteers. While there are numerous challenges to be met, the App Theatre is very well positioned for continued growth and stability.”
In addition to those mentioned above, trustees continuing their service to the board include Bettie Bond, Carolina Catoe, Tucker Deal, Bob Gates, Alfred Glover, Alex Hooker, Jane Lonon, Bill Pelto, Dave Robertson, Dan Shepherd, Bob Snead, Kay Stacy, Danny Wilcox, Johann Vaz, and Todd Wright.
To learn more about the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, visit the website at www.apptheatre.org.