Trustus Theatre’s managing director Larry Hembree has a five-year plan for the non-profit theater on Lady Street in the Vista.
It includes hiring a production manager, exploring new revenue streams – like a cabaret theater planned for the theater’s bar area – and collaborations with other local theaters and the University of South Carolina.
But the plan does not include Hembree himself.
Hembree, 55, said he is ready to step down from the helm of Trustus, which he has run for the past three years. The theater announced his retirement in a news release last month.
“As I was writing the five-year plan, I’m thinking, ‘This is for someone who can really raise a buttload of money,’” Hembree said. “I feel like they need a younger person running the theater, with more presence.”
The goal is to make Trustus a regional theater that emphasizes quality directors and actors – from Columbia, and not – who put on original work, he said.
He also hopes Trustus can earn a membership in the League of Resident Theatres, an organization that promotes and monitors regional theaters in the United States.
There are currently 74 LORT theaters nationwide, although there are none in South Carolina.
The kind of big plans Hembree has worked on for Trustus is something he is known for.
Hembree came to Trustus in 2012, essentially the handpicked successor to Jim and Kay Thigpen, the theater’s cofounders. He arrived at Trustus from Nickelodeon Theatre, where he was the executive director. While there, he is credited with revitalizing the Nick, and he ran the art film house’s multimillion-dollar capital campaign for its location on Main Street downtown.
“Both organizations filled niche markets,” Hembree said of The Nick and Trustus. “My job was to come in and say, this is for everyone. Get in here!”
In his final role as managing director, Hembree will direct “Still Twitty After All These Years,” a musical comedy to be presented Monday through Wednesday on the second floor of Pearlz Oyster Bar in the Vista. The sequel catches up with Aynor, Monetta and Cayce, musically challenged singing triplets from Triangle City, S.C. “Still Twitty After All These Years” finds the singing trio imprisoned due to an “unfortunate evening gown shoplifting incident at Big Lots.” As part of their early release from jail, the triplets are performing a community service concert when they are confronted by a mysterious woman from their past (who may or may not be in drag). This latest version of the Twittys will mark more than two decades of the show, with all proceeds going back to Trustus.
“It’s like the little show that never dies,” playwright Robbie Robertson said. “It’s 100 percent entertainment. The subject matter is light and funny and it's about family.”
After Twitty, Hembree will direct a holiday play called “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” in November.
Then, he said, he would take six months off and maybe do some traveling. After that, he has “no idea” what his next project will be, but it “will without a doubt be civically engaged.”
A search is on for a new permanent director at Trustus, according to board chair Harrison Saunders. Chad Henderson will serve as interim managing director, and Hembree will continue in an emeritus position.
Hembree’s last day at Trustus is Aug. 31.