The Trustus Theater is celebrating its 37th anniversary by putting on the upcoming production, “At the Heart of it All,” a multimedia event showcasing the legacy of the theater's founders and its history.
The production depicts the life of the creators of the Trustus Theater, Kay and Jim Thigpen, who started the theater nearly 40 years ago. It serves as a theatrical haven for the Columbia community, according to Richard K. Blair, a retired Dartmouth teacher and director for "At the Heart of it All."
After finding out Thigpen, a colleague and friend, was terminally ill, Blair said he wanted to commemorate her life by putting on a benefit production, as per Kay’s wishes.
“They provided an incredible place to do really great theater and not only was that fantastic for performers, playwrights, technicians, but it also was for the Columbia audiences," Blair said.
The small professional theater was founded in 1985 on Assembly Street and later moved into its current location in the Vista in 1988. The Trustus Theater will be opening its 38th season in late September after "At the Heart of It All."
“This is like a wonderful opportunity to launch our next season to remind everybody what’s so special about this place. So it’s going to be highly entertaining, but it’s also just going to be a great time to come together post-pandemic and celebrate what (the Thigpens) built,” said Dewey Scott-Wiley, the artistic director at Trustus, as well as one of the performers in the show.
The local theater community will be giving back to the Thigpens by raising money for the theater through a silent auction, according to Ann Burns, stage manager and producer of the production.
At its start, the Trustus Theater was doing plays not typically performed at other theaters.
“They were different in the fact that they were cutting edge, and they dealt with subject matters that wouldn’t typically, you wouldn’t find, and not to stereotype, in a southern city," Blair said.
The Thigpens' ability to put on unique plays that pushed boundaries created opportunities for their company, according to Blair.
“Jim and Kay had this incredible knack for being able to get the rights to a play as soon as it got off Broadway or while it was still there," Blair said. "There were only 15 theaters in the country doing these shows, but Jim and Kay were able to get the rights to do it, and that’s a big compliment.”
In addition to their drive for individuality, Blair said Jim and Kay were always willing to take every moment to educate. Being former educators, they were one of the first companies in the late 1980s to host an African American theater workshop. This later grew into a multi-cultural diversity workshop, allowing for more opportunities for all races and minorities at that time.
Many former members of Trustus have gone on to teach theater, or even open their own theaters. Trustus actors have also been featured in TV shows, on Broadway, in Vegas performing in shows and more.
“The ripple effect of Trustus,” as Blair likes to say, has been felt across the world. “You feel proud to be a little part of any of that.”
There are more than 50 people involved in this production. Many former actors of the theater are planning on flying into Columbia to be a part of this tribute to two beloved members of the theater community, or are contributing videos to the multimedia aspect of the show.
Showtimes for "At the Heart of it All" are either Sept. 9 or Sept. 10 at 8:00 p.m. at the Thigpen Stage. VIP tickets are $75 and general admission tickets are $30.
To get tickets go to https://trustus.org/event/at-the-heart-of-it-all/.