Unity of Theatre Hearts

The Athens Theatre

Thanks to a new fund drive called Best Seat in the House, Richard and Lu Hoff’s love for the New Bern Civic Theatre (NBCT) will soon be forever remembered with a tributary plaque affixed to a house seat in the community theatre group’s home, the Athens Theatre—a fitting tribute for a love story that began with a shared passion for the stage in the theatre group which they, along with other dedicated notables, helped steer for decades.

Lu, a mother of three boys, had been an early member of the New Bern Civic Theatre in the 1970’s, starring in leading roles such as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. True to the spirit of comradery that made the theatre group prosper quickly, she would also do makeup, help build sets, and even run a spotlight if the task were needed. She forged a bond with the original members as they became her tightknit theatre family.

Richard joined a production of Camelot in 1977 after his oldest daughter begged him to take her to auditions for the play. Though he was an accomplished actor, singer, and dancer himself, the fact that he was a widower with four children (the youngest being only six) and a U.S. Navy Reserves Officer prevented him from accepting a major role. Since his daughter, however, had secured a part in the play, which necessitated his presence at practices to some degree, he thought he could juggle a few parts (five!) in the chorus. As luck would have it, Lu was assigned to do his make-up for the performances and their personal love story began. They married the next year, their honeymoon taking place the weekend before Richard opened as Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun. The couple enjoys saying, “We met in Camelot and got married in Annie Get Your Gun.”

Between the two of them, they had leading and supporting roles in dozens of New Bern Civic Theatre’s successful plays throughout the seventies, eighties, nineties, and into the new millennium—Daddy Warbucks, Lily St. Regis, Billy Bigelow, and Carrie Pipperidge to name a few. In addition to their production participation onstage and off, they held down NBCT Board positions, such as President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Publicity Chair. They were instrumental members of the steering committee that propelled the fundraising efforts to purchase and renovate the Athens Theatre and the Athens Café Building next door. Lu was the primary contact for PepsiCo, Inc. through the local Pepsi Bottling Company for the Pepsi Cola 85th and 100th Anniversaries. She produced The Pepsi Drama for NBCT and Pepsi Cola, which gave NBCT and the Athens Theatre widespread notoriety. Richard also frequently called upon his skills as a custom home builder to shore up issues in the antique building during the renovation.

Richard and Lu made theatre a fun family affair, including their combined seven children in their joy for plays, music, and dance, while teaching them the hard work which was required to build dreams. Many of their children were fixtures of the group over the years, some going on to careers “in the business.” The couple also sought to cultivate young talent outside their family, helping to create a teen group for NBCT when a lack of funding for the arts at the high school level resulted in the suspension of drama classes. The teen group was named The Saax Bradbury Players. Their first production was Don’t Drink the Water. This group blossomed into an even greater benefit to the community when they experimented with live sign language artists in total communications: actors signing while performing song, dialogue, and dancing on stage. Co-founded by Lu, the NBCT StageHANDS was the only total communications youth theatre group in the state. They received statewide and national attention when the StageHANDS performed Peter Pan for the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Each year for seventeen years, buses of school children attended performances. Every play was original—music and all, and most were based on popular children’s fairy tales. Never known to rest on their laurels, the couple personally endowed and awarded scholarships to talented newcomers.

Though now they illustrate their devotion through their attendance rather than performance, Richard and Lu’s hearts remain united with their theatre family. They know firsthand the herculean efforts these dedicated alumni undertook in founding, managing, and growing the New Bern Civic Theatre into the smashing success it is today. After learning their children were honoring the couple’s love of NBCT with the chair plaque through the Best Seat in the House fundraising drive, they immediately began listing names of other members, some living and some no longer with us, whom they hoped would be honored in the same manner. There can be no more fitting expression of gratitude for the commitment of NBCT’s past and current thespians and supporters than by donating a forever marker in the heart of it at the Athens Theatre.

Link to Best Seat in the House Campaign: ci.ovationtix.com/36421/store/donations/47400

By McLane Hoff Brostedt