The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country is pleased to announce that veteran arts professional Suzanne Messenger Livesay has been named executive director of the venerable landmark on King Street in downtown Boone, NC. She will begin her tenure on August 1, 2022.
Board chair Keith Martin said that Livesay was the unanimous choice of both the search and executive committees of the theatre’s board of trustees, and praised vice chair Bill Pelto, who led the national effort that yielded a local candidate for the position. Pelto said of the hiring, “Suzanne brings to us the verve of an educator, the expertise of a manager, and the instinct of an artist. I look forward to seeing her energies dedicated to enhancing the quality of the arts here in the High Country.”
The Sugar Grove resident was formerly the vice president of education and community engagement at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida, the sixth largest performing arts center in the United States. In that capacity, Livesay supervised 31 full-time and 50+ adjunct faculty and staff members while administering an annual $5,500,000 budget.
Previously, she served as both the theatre and music chair for the Patel Conservatory, also in Tampa, theatre/choral director and department chair at The First Academy in Orlando, and fine arts coordinator and instructor at the Geneva Academy in Deland. Since Suzanne and her husband, Gil, relocated their family to the High Country during the pandemic, she has been employed by the Watauga County Schools as a K-8 music educator at both Bethel and Valle Crucis Schools. She told the App Theatre search committee that she fell in love with the High Country in the 1990s when she was a featured soloist at The Farm House in Blowing Rock while pursuing her undergraduate musical theatre degree at Stetson University in Florida. Livesay also holds a Master of Education degree from Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.
Thirty select community stakeholders interviewed Livesay during the extensive search process, which involved board trustees, theatre staff and volunteers, elected officials, and representatives of user groups who program events at the theatre.
L. Wright Tilley, executive director of the Boone and Watauga County Tourism Development Authorities at Explore Boone, said, “Suzanne has the right personality and understands the importance of the local community in the success of the theater. Being an educator, she is used to getting feedback from multiple sources (administration, students, parents, etc.). The fact that she has already been living and working in our community for a couple of years will be very helpful.”
Boone Mayor Pro Tem and theatre volunteer Edie Tugman echoed those comments by saying, “Ms. Livesay is a lovely presenter: articulate, energetic and knowledgeable. She would be a good representative of the theatre in the business community as well as engaging with the general public. It is amazing that one with the caliber of Ms. Livesay’s experience is so readily available.”
“Suzanne has the right background and personality for the job,” said David Jackson, president and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “She is someone who can trumpet the mission of the Appalachian Theatre well, while also thinking about how the organization can be a benefit to others in our community. The seeds are there for this to be a signature moment in the theatre’s history.”
In accepting the position, Livesay remarked, “I’m delighted to join an exceptional board and staff to share my leadership, expertise, and appreciation for Boone’s unique culture while molding the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country into a premiere destination for the performing arts.”
“The extensive theatre renovation and restoration took into account every facet of an outstanding performance venue while honoring the historical integrity of the space,” said Livesay. “It really is something to experience and behold.”
Speaking from the perspective of the App Theatre’s user groups, Julie A. Richardson, Blue Ridge Community Theatre board chair, was one of over a half-dozen local arts organizations who met with Livesay during the candidate interview process.
“I’m impressed at how members of the Livesay family have jumped into our arts community since arriving in the High Country a few years ago,” said Richardson. “Suzanne is a music teacher in the Watauga Public Schools, and her daughter Micah has performed in shows at both App State and Lees-McRae College. With an extensive background in producing and directing theatre productions, Suzanne knows firsthand the challenges that user groups face when mounting their own plays and musicals; she will be an effective advocate for local performing arts organizations.”
For information about the theatre, visit their website at www.apptheatre.org.