By Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane

Greensboro News and Record, February 14, 2017

GREENSBORO — After more than 27 years at the helm of Community Theatre of Greensboro, Mitchel Sommers will take on a new role there.

Sommers will help recruit a new executive director to take his place, then move to the new post of CTG artistic director.

At 64, after handling both the management and the artistic oversight of the nonprofit theater, Sommers said he wants to focus on the artistic side.

“It’s what I do best,” Sommers said. “That’s who I am.”

He proposed the change to CTG’s board.

Sommers will continue to direct and produce programming, including CTG’s popular annual “The Wizard of Oz.”

He will continue to lead OnStage and Inclusive, its summer theater program for people with disabilities, and support the efforts of CTG education director, Rozalynn Fulton.

CTG has grown over the years under Sommers, and his current role “is much more than a full-time job,” said Board President Stacey Youngdale. “It’s too big for one person.”

Sommers looks forward to handing off other management responsibilities to a new executive director.

Those include fundraising, as well as managing the staff and CTG’s Starr Theatre building at 520 S. Elm St, which includes a 160-seat theater, event space and offices.

“The fundraising has really been overwhelming for me,” he admitted. “I have asked so many people for money. I want a period of my life when people see me coming, they don’t take off for the hills because they know I’m going to be asking them for a donation.”

He found rejection difficult to handle.

“If people said ‘No,’ or ‘Another time,’ I would focus on ‘Oh, they’re rejecting me,’ “ Sommers said. “That wears on you, especially when a lot of these people are your personal friends.”

Sommers relishes the thought of more flexibility and personal time — time to perform, to spend time at his beach house or with his two adult children, or just to go home at a normal hour.

“I kind of want to find out who I am when I’m not the executive director,” Sommers said.

Sommers has earned a reputation as CTG’s passionate, behind-the-scenes wizard, credited with turning it around artistically and financially.

Youngdale expressed gratitude for Sommers’ leadership, and for giving the board time to find a new executive director and make a smooth transition.

“He gave CTG his heart and soul for all these years,” Youngdale said.

The board plans to stay within CTG’s existing $800,000 annual budget as it makes the change, Youngdale and Sommers said.

That pays for operational expenses, including the current staff of four full-time and three part-time employees. A fifth full-time position is vacant.

They plan to hire the new executive director this year.

“We want someone with strong leadership and business acumen, and to take CTG into its next phase,” Youngdale said.

CTG began in 1949 as Greensboro Little Theatre, making it Guilford County’s oldest arts organization. It changed its name in the 1970s.

By 1989, CTG found itself on shaky ground. Its executive director had left, productions were bare-bones and audiences had diminished.

That began to change when its board hired Sommers, a native New Yorker and professional actor with a master’s degree in acting and directing from UNC-Greensboro.

He created a nurturing atmosphere where all ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, incomes and abilities can showcase their talent in dramas, musicals, troupes, educational programs and classes.

Several of its actors have gone on to Broadway.

His efforts earned him the Betty Cone Medal of Arts in 2005 from the United Arts Council, now ArtsGreensboro.

Under Fulton, its education director, CTG offers a youth theater program with classes, camps and productions and an award-winning Centerstage performing group.

It added Teens Downtown, which provides teens with arts experiences.

Sommers led the $2 million capital campaign in 2012 to purchase the former Broach Theatre for CTG’s current home.

“I am thrilled and proud that I led the charge to raise that money,” he said.

The capital campaign still needs about $225,000 to reach its $2 million goal.

“I’m still praying that before I would actually retire, which I hope is many years from now, we will have paid off the building,” Sommers said.

As he reduces his responsibilities at CTG, Sommers will keep other part-time jobs.

He teaches theater at Elon University, and serves as cantorial soloist at Temple Emanuel.

He directs some productions at Greensboro’s Barn Dinner Theatre and will direct “Nunsense” there this summer.

Sommers also wants to do more acting.

He will play Captain Hook in an April CTG production.

Sometime after he steps down as executive director, he’d like to try out in New York for a part in a Broadway or summer-stock production.

“Even if I didn’t get it,” he said, “what fun that would be to rent an apartment for a couple of months, go to auditions, take some classes, go see some Broadway shows, then bring all that back to CTG and the community.”