Some big changes are under way for the venerable Hendersonville Community Theatre, as Season Number 55 gets underway with the classic musical comedy, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (opening Friday, Feb. 14). The show will be directed by long-time HCT mainstay and current interim Artistic Director Jim Walker. Walker has seen HCT through some tough times in recent years and is ready to hand the Artistic Directorship off to Jeff Messer. Walker will be honored for his passion and hard work over the years and will maintain an Emeritus status with HCT for his service and dedication to the theatre. Jeff will also have the support of other veteran members of HCT’s Artistic Team, including Johnathan Forrester and Bob Reece.
Messer, a WNC native, is a well-known local actor, director, producer and playwright, having worked for over 20 years with theatres like HART, Parkway Playhouse, SART, The Magnetic, as well as having founded the short-lived (2001–2004) Area 45 at The Artist Resource Center in downtown Asheville. He also spent several years as a popular radio talk show host with iHeart Radio and has been a theater critic for the Mountain Xpress since 2014. Messer made a particular splash with HCT in 2017, when a play he wrote called SIGNIFICANT OTHER was a sold out hit for HCT’S Second Stage. In 2018 and 2019, adaptations of ROBIN HOOD (co-written with Robert Akers) became the two most successful productions in the near five-decade history of Montford Park Players in Asheville. He’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and is eager to bring his passions to HCT. Last year he was nominated for an Eisner Award (the Oscars of the comic book publishing industry) for a book he co-authored and has also been working on several high-profile publishing projects within that field.
“One of the reasons I’ve stayed close to my roots here in Western North Carolina,” says Messer, “Is that I always believed in making as big of a difference as I could locally, and helping theatre, and the arts survive and thrive here. I’ve seen how important and transformative it can be, and I believe that there are abundant audiences who are craving to be inspired by and welcomed into the live theatre world.”
Having been a critic for nearly 6 years gave Messer a unique insight into every theatre in WNC.
“I remember the first show I saw at HCT in their space just near downtown Hendersonville,” Messer recounts, “And while the show was not particularly good, I was just blown away by and inspired by the theatre itself. It has long been a favorite of mine and seeing so much potential in that theatre really inspired me. It’s kind of a dream come true to be asked to come on board and be a leader in shaping the future of this theatre.”
Beginning in 2019, HCT experienced a lot of changes, and began to grow. With these changes the Theatre had a perfectly timed opportunity to hit the re-set button, and set the theatre on a bold new path. With these improvements and others yet to come, HCT looks to embrace and welcome the local community in new and exciting ways that includes creating a new youth theatre company and expanding its offerings on both its Main Stage and the Second Stage Studio.
Messer continues: “You can’t build and grow a successful community theatre unless you nurture your theatre community. It has to be about people finding friends and family within these walls and feeling a renewed purpose. Being a part of something like this can become your passion, your social life, and it can create friendships, romances, and bonds that last a lifetime. HCT already had a lot of folks who were working hard to make this place all of those things. My goal is to take all of that to the next level, and to help the theatre rise to a higher place of esteem in the community. It’s going to be a positive, happy, welcoming space for anyone who wants to join the family and contribute.”
A new day has arrived for HCT, and over the coming year, there will be many auditions for shows, many opportunities for volunteers to become part of the behind the scenes world of theatre, and a growth and expansion that will take folks by (pleasant) surprise.
For questions, please contact:
HCT Board of Directors, President