Thunder Bay Theatre finds itself in a transition period after its board of directors last week opted not to renew the contract of Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez.
"There were some situations brought to the board that were thoroughly investigated. The majority of the board could not agree to renew his contract," said Interim Managing Director Dick Bremer of the dismissal of Rodriguez, who first came to Alpena in 2009 as a member of TBT's core acting company and took over as artistic director in 2011.
TBT announced this week that long-time local performer/director Heather Nordenbrock has accepted the position of interim artistic director for the summer season. The theatre also has welcomed three new young professional actors in residence and expects several more throughout the summer season.
"I'm really excited," said Nordenbrock of her new duties. "I've been working with TBT a long time."
Nordenbrock has appeared in numerous TBT shows, including in "Gypsy" as Mama Rose, in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" as Olive and in "Sweeney Todd" as Mrs. Lovitt. She also has been closely associated with Rogers City Community Theatre and the Alpena High School Masquers Club, for which serves as an adviser.
A graduate of Rogers City High School and the University of Colorado in Boulder, Nordenbrock holds a Bachelor of Music Education Degree. Prior to moving to Alpena 11 years ago, she taught music, drama, choir and band in the small community of Burr Oak.
"When I first came here, I interviewed for the artistic director position, but then the current director decided to stay," she said. "They asked me instead to become part of the core company. I've been waiting 11 years for this, and who wouldn't be excited."
Returning to the TBT core company for the summer season are Nickie Hilton as technical director, along with Zach Clement and Mac Fountain as actors who also will perform a variety of other functions at the theatre.
A grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs has allowed the theatre to bring in professional actors from throughout the state of Michigan for this summer.
"I'm really looking forward to having a cohesive core company," Nordenbrock said of the group she will be leading. "We look to start with a clean slate and move forward."
Among the new young professionals now on board are Amy Groen, Paul Docter and Lisa Lull.
Groen is a graduate of Cornerstone University with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and a Musical Theatre emphasis. She performed in many productions while at Cornerstone, including "Steel Magnolias" as M'Lynn Eatenton, "Little Women: the Musical" as Beth March and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as Titania. She has studied voice, ballet, jazz, tap and modern dance.
Lull is currently at senior at Central Michigan University where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Musical Theatre and a Bachelor of Applied Arts with majors in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts. She has performed in numerous shows at CMU, such as in "Rent" as Alexi Darling, "The Robber Bridegroom" as Airie and "No Exit" as Estelle.
Docter is completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre Performance from the University of Michigan-Flint and brings hands-on experience as a set carpenter and sound technician. He has been involved in both the Flint Youth Theatre and the U of M-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance.
Coming on board later in the summer is Jacqueline Vier, a junior at CMU who is pursuing a Bachelor of Music Degree in Voice Performance. She has been quite active in theatre and choir while at CMU, and has taken private voice lessons, tap, ballet and piano.
Both Nordenbrock and Bremer are enthused about the opportunity to bring some new faces to TBT and to provide an entertaining summer season. The full summer season will be announced soon.
"Obviously we're trying to make the transition as seamless and smooth as possible," Bremer said. "We appreciate all the community support that has come forward, and we want to make sure that our patrons and employees have a great summer."
"We have incredibly talented people and I am looking forward to bringing TBT back to professional level quality," said Nordenbrock.