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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Embrace your inner goddess: 50 Shades of musical kink

Posted by on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard of E.L. James’ best-selling erotic romance series Fifty Shades of Grey. The trilogy had less than illustrious origins: The first book began as a piece of self-published online Twilight fan fiction.

But the series—known as “mommy porn” by some—catapulted to fame thanks to the power of word-of-mouth and the thrill of the transgressive. For many readers, the tale of the sadomasochistic relationship between young Anastasia Steele and sexy millionaire Christian Grey was their first foray into smutty literature.

To date, the Fifty Shades series has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide, setting the record for the fastest-selling paperback of all time. (Yes, outpacing even Harry Potter—sex sells.) As is to be expected for any best-selling cultural phenomenon, there’s already a Fifty Shades of Grey movie in the works.

And now, thanks to efforts by members of Chicago-based improv company Baby Wants Candy, there’s even a musical based on the trilogy. 50 Shades! The Musical made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, continued on to previews in Chicago and New York—and is now playing in Raleigh as the first stop on its national tour.

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    As befits any great cultural phenomenon, Fifty Shades of Grey is now a musical—and its first stop is Raleigh.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

CAM Raleigh changes leadership on eve of second anniversary

Posted by on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 11:28 AM

CAM Raleigh officially opened in April 2011.
RALEIGH—As CAM Raleigh approaches the two-year mark, the museum is making changes. It’s also taking the opportunity, in advance of the noise of birthday celebrations next month, to revisit its aspirations.

One change is taking place at the top. Early this week, CAM parted ways with Elysia Borowy-Reeder, the museum's executive director of the last two years. The change has been announced internally but an official announcement is expected soon.
[UPDATE 4:11 p.m.: Here it is.]

Kate Shafer, who has served as gallery and exhibitions manager since the institution’s opening, is now interim director.

“There was a desire on the part of the Contemporary Art Foundation and the advisory board to seek a new direction for the philosophy and the leadership of CAM,” says Marvin Malecha, ex-officio of the museum’s advisory board.

Borowy-Reeder, who is traveling, referred questions to Malecha.

“I think there are some people here who were looking for maybe more of an out-of-the-box thought process relative to how we go forward with CAM, rather than a traditional director’s role as we’d been in," Malecha said.

"We’re looking to take a new turn after two years of finally getting the museum into place after years of aspiration. This is really a chance to go off in a new direction.”

What does “new direction” mean, exactly? The museum’s two governing bodies—the 14-member advisory board and the 16-member Contemporary Art Foundation—will kick around answers during a half-day retreat next week. They’ll also decide what kind of search CAM will make for a new director, or whether they’ll simply reorganize the existing staff.

In other very recent changes, Marjorie Hodges has taken on the role of director of the Contemporary Art Foundation. Her commute won’t change, however—Hodges leaves the Flanders Gallery, directly across West Street from CAM.

Gab Smith also comes on board as director of advancement and membership engagement.

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    Early this week, CAM Raleigh parted ways with executive director Elysia Borowy-Reeder.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Brandon Sanderson finishes Robert Jordan's bestselling Wheel of Time Series with A Memory of Light

Posted by on Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Imagine if J.K. Rowling had died before finishing Harry Potter, or if (as some fans fear) George R.R. Martin passes away before completing A Song of Ice and Fire, the bestselling series that’s also the basis for HBO’s Emmy-winning Game of Thrones. Now imagine you’re the one who has to come in, bring the epic to a satisfactory conclusion, resolve dozens of dangling plot threads, all while dealing with a passionate and demanding fan base who’ll never let you forget it if you fail.

That was the challenge set before young writer Brandon Sanderson when he was called upon to complete The Wheel of Time, a series of doorstop-sized fantasy novels published from 1990 to 2005 by Robert Jordan, a pen name for James Oliver Rigney, Jr., that have sold 44 million copies worldwide. Jordan’s death in 2007 while working on the planned 12th and final volume of The Wheel of Time caused an uproar among those seeking to know the fate of hero Rand al’Thor and the other characters.

Enter Sanderson, the prolific young writer of the acclaimed Mistborn series. A longtime fan of The Wheel of Time, Sanderson was tasked with turning Jordan’s partially-finished manuscript, pre-written ending and extensive notes into something that would successfully conclude the series, which eventually was split into three novels. (Jordan had once said the last book could run 2,000 pages; the finale trilogy collectively ran more than 2,500). That last book, A Memory of Light, was published in January to rave reviews and a spot on the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Sanderson will appear at Quail Ridge Books and Music with Jordan’s widow and editor Harriet McDougal on Feb. 20 to promote Light and answer questions about the series. We got him on the phone to ask what it was like to finally bring the series he loved to an end.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

What the ocean saw: David Gatten's films at NCSU

Posted by on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 12:31 PM

N.C. State University
Caldwell Hall G107, 2221 Hillsborough St.
Fri., Feb. 15, 5-7:30 p.m.

This is the true story of how the ocean made a movie.

To be more precise, filmmaker David Gatten collaborated on a movie with the Atlantic Ocean, where the Edisto River empties its freshwater into the ocean’s salt along the South Carolina coast. Gatten put unexposed 16mm film stock into a crab trap, tied the ends of a 50-foot rope to the trap and his ankle, and dropped it into the water.

from How to Conduct a Love Affair
 (2007), David Gatten
After a while, he pulled it out and printed it. He didn’t develop it. He didn’t record sound, leaving the optical sound strip on the film to the mercy of the underwater elements. Basically he just put it in a projector. That’s What the Water Said.

“The ocean made the movie,” Gatten says. “The exposure, the processing, the chemistry, the physical interaction—everything—was entirely the ocean. I didn’t do anything other than decide how long it should be in the water, at high tide, ebb tide, low tide. And how much film I was going to put in. The ocean and crabs decided how much film I was going to get back. They did the editing. They did the sound. I was the producer.”

Gatten made three such films in 1998, returning to the South Carolina coast in 2007 to make three more. This more recent set, along with five other 16-mm films from his acclaimed career, will be screened in a mini-retrospective on Friday evening at N.C. State.

It’s a rare chance to see the work of one of the country’s foremost experimental filmmakers with Gatten at the projector’s controls. In his omnipresent overalls, he’ll introduce the films, something he doesn’t often get to do but considers an integral part of the screening. Neither dramatic nor scripted nor off-the-cuff, he nonetheless sets the films up with a precise, evocative monologue before bringing the screen to life an exact beat after he stops talking. A screening is a performance, to his mind.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden talks The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Posted by on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 7:16 PM

Journalist Mark Bowden’s books have covered everything from D-Day to cyber war to NFL football to the intense military action of Black Hawk Down, the basis for the Oscar-winning film of the same name. Now, he’s chronicled a recent and harrowing event in international history with The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (Atlantic Monthly Press), a chronicle of the 10-year battle to find the notorious terrorist. We spoke recently with Bowden, who appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh on Thursday.

INDY WEEK: It’s only been a little over a year and a half since bin Laden’s death. How soon after the event did you start working on this book? What were some of the challenges in making sure it was something that was ready to be published?
Mark Bowden: It all started, technically, the day after bin Laden was killed. I was out in LA at the time, and a movie producer asked me if I would consider researching and writing a script. I emailed Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, and asked me if he would consider putting me on the list of the thousands of journalists who wanted to interview the President about this event.

Much to my surprise, Jay emailed me right back and said he thought I was an ideal person to do a story like that! He didn’t know I was just writing a script, but my friend the producer wound up deciding not to pursue the project, so I wound up with potential access with no project. I called up my publisher and pitched it to him, and he said yes.
I told him I did not want to be the first—that I wanted to research this until I felt I was ready to write, and he accepted it on that basis. So I signed a contract and got to work!

How much access did you wind up having?
Ultimately, I did sit down with President Obama for an interview in the Oval Office that lasted an hour and a half. I interviewed most of the key people on the White House staff; I interviewed extensively at the Pentagon and at the CIA, and at the Joint Special Operations Command, and in and around the country with sources of my own who were able to help me understand various aspects of the technology and strategy that’s been involved in the last 10 years, and I had the help of my son and my cousin David, who worked on a documentary film for the Discovery Channel based on my work, and they did reporting and interviewed people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

With all that, I had help, and I had opportunity.

As you were doing research for this, how did your perception of the situation evolve, in terms of your understanding of it?
Well, I think like everyone else, I was fixated on the raid itself. But as I got more into the story, I realized this was more of a 10-year-long story, for which the raid was only the last few hours. And I was only vaguely aware of the evolution of what I call the “targeting engine” that the CIA and Special Operations and NSA and various counterterrorism intelligence agencies put together.

So that was all new to me, at least in the detail that I came to understand it, and of course at that time I had no knowledge at all of how the CIA found bin Laden, which to me is probably the single most remarkable aspect of the story.

What do you feel is the biggest misconception that the public’s had about the events leading to bin Laden’s killing?
Well, I do think that most people don’t realize, or didn’t realize, that finding bin Laden was not a sudden stroke of luck. It was a very long and painstaking process that developed the information that led to this fellow Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Really, the most remarkable piece of this was finding him, not knowing that he would ultimately lead them to bin Laden, but knowing there was a good chance that might happen, and then that subsequently paying off.

I think the most surprising thing for most people is that this was not something that happened suddenly; it was a very gradual, very determined intelligence effort that found bin Laden in the compound.

That touches on one thing the book makes very apparent—that intelligence is more than what people see in thrillers, it’s about a gradual compilation and advancement of leads. What was one of the greatest challenges in presenting that information in a way that stays true to the process and conveys its impact without sensationalizing it?

Well, I think that’s obviously a major challenge when you’re constructing a narrative. But I believe that if you penetrate to the core of a story, and you understand the significance of each turning point, it becomes inherently interesting.

I think where writers get lost is when they get distracted by a lot of extraneous, but curious or interesting detail. But the key to me was focusing in on exactly what were the pieces that had to be fit together, and where did those pieces came from. If you narrow it down like that, I think it becomes compelling—if you put together the story in a very clear and I think decisive way, and I think that helps maintain the reader’s interest.

In the book, you often have passages where you go inside the head of Barack Obama and others. When you’re going through your research and interviews and translating them into prose, what are the biggest challenges with sequences like that?
What I try to avoid doing is using a lot of the conventional tools of attribution, which tend to slow down the narrative. I’m content as a writer, if President Obama tells me, “This is what I was thinking, and this is what was happening,” if I can simply relate that fact.

What I’ve done traditionally in my books is have detailed source notes at the end, if anyone wants to check the attribution of the quotes throughout the novel. In this case, that was virtually impossible, because most of the key people involved, other than President Obama, were willing to talk to me, but did not want to have specific things attributed to them, because I was dealing with people who were in high office and positions of responsibility, and they’re just concerned about putting too fine a point on their thought process.

There is a bit more of a need here than in my other books for the reader to simply trust what I’m telling them is through my reporting, rather than something I’m making up.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stephan Pastis talks Pearls Before Swine and the future of newspaper comic strips

Monday at Quail Ridge Books

Posted by on Sun, Oct 7, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Pearls Before Swine Cover
As the mind behind the hit newspaper comic Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis appreciates the time he's able to get away from the drawing board and interact with his fans. "When you’re a cartoonist, you basically see nobody," says Pastis, who appears at Quail Ridge Books and Music Monday night, in a call from his home in Santa Rosa, Calif.

"You’re in a room by yourself, and you know that people see the strip, but the reality to the people reading it is very different from your reality — it’s like being a stand-up comedian who can’t see the audience. Walking into a bookstore and doing a signing is like going from night to day — you go from being a hermit to the center of attention in a large crowd."

Pearls has been a mainstay of newspapers for more than a decade, offering trenchant commentary on human foibles through its large cast of talking animals ranging from the naive Pig to the idiotic alligator Larry to the eternally sleazy Rat, Pastis' favorite. "I’ve always liked writing for Rat," Pastis says. "He’s the voice that’s closest to mine. If I had my way, there would be a lot more Rat, and the strip would be a lot less popular."

Pearls Before Swine Strip
Pastis acknowledges the market for newspaper comics has changed drastically since Pearls went into wide syndication in January 2002. "When I started, if you got syndicated, you were basically set — you’d make a good living, and you wouldn't have to worry much else," Pastis says. "In the 11 years since then, that door has basically closed. There is no new great syndicated strip, and there probably won’t be. Literally, there are no new launches.

"Now, to make it, you have to go that web route. Many of those guys, from Penny Arcade to Cyanide and Happiness to The Perry Bible Fellowship — which are all excellent — claim to make a living, but how do you know? I can tell you that even if someone does a strip and it’s fairly popular online, the money is not online. I question a lot of claims about the money being made, and the question remains that if things continue to go that route for newspapers, and you have to make money online, how do you do it?"

However, he remains optimistic about the longevity of newspaper comics. "While new papers are not coming around, I’m still in 700 newspapers, and I’m still making a good living," Pastis says. "Syndicated content is cheap content — they don’t have to pay employees to produce it.

"Sometimes I think the obituary for syndicated comic strip guys has been written prematurely — it’s almost impossible to break in, but for those who have, the readership is still there. Sometimes I want to remind people that I’m doing OK! Most towns still have a newspaper, and at the end of the day, you still have to have local news. Even Yahoo and Google rely, by and large, on content that originally comes from local newspapers. It might take different forms, but local newspapers will survive, and I feel comics will be part of that.

He's also impressed by the diverse styles and content of online comic strips, most of which feature deeper subject matter and more R-rated language than found in a daily newspaper. "The fact that strips like that can go online and build their own audience is amazing. I love to see that — it keeps things going. Just because you can’t get syndicated in newspapers doesn't mean the comic strip has to go away, and those guys are proving that."

Pastis says he loves meeting his fans in person, though encountering someone he's never met before who can quote the strip back to him can be like "a kid of yours has gone off and made friends you don’t know."

He's had some oddball encounters: "People have taken me aside to say their brother is in the CIA and is watching us. There’s always someone who hands me a CD of their cousin’s band, as though they think I’m in the music industry. People will put hats on my head with a company’s logo and take a picture before I can take it off, to make it look like I’m endorsing the company. I had a mother insist I take her and her daughter to a photo booth and take a picture with her and her daughter, so I had the uncomfortable experience of being a stranger in a photo booth.

"Sadly, I haven't been able to get any strips out of these stories."

Stephan Pastis appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music at 7:30 p.m. Monday for a reading and signing of the new collection Pearls Freaks the #*%# Out: A (Freaky) Pearls Before Swine Treasury. This is a signing line ticket event, with tickets available for each copy purchased; Pastis will also draw a character in each purchased book. For more information, visit or call 919-828-1588.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cirque du Soleil's athletic prowess compensates for show's flaws

Posted by on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 6:51 PM

Cirque du Soleil's Dralion - Images by Independent Weekly

* * * stars
PNC Arena
Through Aug. 19

Cirque du Soleil is a global juggernaut, but it's still a surprisingly youthful institution. In contrast to, say, those 19th-century animal drivers Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, Cirque is a babe. Officially dating to 1984, the Montreal-based troupe exploded in the 1990s. In the middle of that decade, the troupe developed an Eastern-themed show called Dralion. The show focused on Chinese acrobatics and became a huge hit, running for about 13 years.

In 2010, the show was revived for arena tours, and that's what audiences see this week at PNC Arena. We caught the show Wednesday night at Raleigh's PNC Arena. We can report that the show is filled with dancers, singers, tumblers, trampoliners, aerialists and an impossibly ripped guy who does this thing with a "crossed wheel" routine. The latter comes early in the show, as Jonathan Morin tumbles onto the stage in his self-invented device of two steel circles, intersecting in the shape of an egg. Morin does a variety of spins, cartwheels and flips with the device. It's amazing, inventive stuff, the sort of thing people come to expect of Cirque du Soleil. However, the routine goes on for a couple minutes too long—and it's not the first time in the evening that we have that feeling.

You wouldn't know from watching the show, but Morin is playing a character called Kala, who is described thusly on the Cirque website: "Kala is the heart of the wheel that represents time and the infinite cycle. He is the internal propulsion of the wheel that makes time evolve. It is the ongoing circle of life."

There's a lot of this "ongoing circle of life" stuff in this production. A group of dancers and singers establish what seems to be a narrative framework, although we can't understand the invented language the trio of singers sing ("an invented language to which only Cirque du Soleil holds the key. Their mysterious accents echo down through time").

Nor do we know exactly what is meant by the character called The Little Buddha, who steps forward at the beginning of the show (after the clowns have warmed up the crowd) and meaningfully brandishes an oversized sand hourglass. Our lives are finite, I suppose. Time is running out in this circle of life. For those interested, the website helpfully tells us that the "Little Buddha is the chosen child. Although it possesses special powers that will allow it to eventually become an Âme-Force, it dreams of being just a regular child."

What's an Âme-Force? "L'Âme-Force symbolises ultimate harmony between the four elements."

OK, it's best not to peer too deeply into the story of Dralion, when it's really just a mostly solid evening of human tricks and stunts, topped off with some gorgeous, death-defying aerial dances over center ring, and a thrilling wall trampoline routine at the rear of the stage (the Wall Street Journal recently reported that many ex-Olympians, especially gymnasts, divers and synchronized swimmers, find work with Cirque du Soleil.)

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    Too often, when I wanted to get lost in the phenomenal athleticism of the performers, I kept being reminded that we were in a hockey arena.

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Heroic puppetry, but how late? Hot Summer Nights / Theatre Raleigh's AVENUE Q

Posted by on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 6:23 PM

The cast of Hot Summer Nights / Theatre Raleighs AVENUE Q
4 stars
(out of 5)
Hot Summer Nights / Theatre Raleigh
Fletcher Opera House, Progress Energy Center
through Aug. 19

It’s hard enough being one character on stage in a musical.

In Hot Summer Nights / Theater Raleigh’s lively production of AVENUE Q, Heather Maggs, Adam Poole and Erik and Annie Floor play ten.

They’re the heroic puppeteers animating, speaking and singing the roles of the self-described “people of fur” (and fuzz) who occupy this slightly scuzzy neighborhood well beyond the city’s high-rent district. And since their characters weave in and out of the various scenes—and some of the puppets require two of the four actors to animate—the logistics and quick-changes are pretty intense at times.

So credit them—and director Richard Roland—that you couldn’t tell by looking on the opening night. But after a performance that was never less than smooth and assured in Fletcher Opera House, why did I still leave this show feeling somewhat bemused?

As many readers already know, the titled tract of real estate in this comic musical is something of an urban staging ground, a pre-professional purgatory for a group of relatively disaffected Generation Y’ers like central character Princeton (Erik Floor), recently out of college and now facing lives in the world as adults.

None of them are all that ready. Princeton has a grubstake from his parents that he’s burning through on beer, but zilch for employment prospects with a B.A. in English. Lucy Monster (Annie Floor) is a kindergarten teaching assistant with no romantic prospects; she dreams of having her own “Monsterssori School,” but is making no headway toward it. Rod (Erik Floor) is a type-A (and robin’s egg-blue) Republican banker who secretly wants his slacker roomie and long-time friend, Nicky (Poole)—but he’ll never, ever come out of the closet to pursue him. Meanwhile, Trekkie Monster (Poole) stays holed up in his apartment, addicted to Internet porn.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's wrestling, but is it art? Food trucks and smackdowns tonight in Raleigh

Posted by on Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 1:24 PM

A superstar from the late ’90s Southern Championship Wrestling scene
  • Shonna Greenwell
  • A superstar from the late ’90s Southern Championship Wrestling scene
There’s art to be found in men beating the crap out of each other. There is also wholesome, family entertainment located there too.

Just ask Rebus Works owner Shonna Greenwell. Today, the men of local wrestling outfit GOUGE Wrestling will be smashing and bashing outside her arts and crafts gallery, entertaining spectators as they take part in another one of Rebus Works’s Food Truck Rodeo.

So, just how did an art gallery owner hook up with a bunch of tights-wearing bruisers? Well, for starters, she lived next to one for years.

“Count Grog was my neighbor,” says Greenwell, referring to the wrestling manager and GOUGE commissioner. She got invited to one of their shows back when they were performing over at the Berkeley Café. Greenwell, who was dabbling in photography at the time, found them to be the perfect photo subjects.

“These guys, or men and women, would completely go into this other ego or other personality, and it was always your classic, like, good vs. evil,” she says. “And they would get the crowd riled up, and you could get all your frustrations and everything out. You could yell whatever you want and basically cheer for whoever you wanted as well.”

Greenwell got the GOUGE crew to perform outside Rebus Works for one paid event, but it turned to be, in Greenwell’s words, a “borderline disaster.” She forgot that because Rebus Works is located below the Boylan Street Bridge, passersby could watch the action from the bridge and not pay a dime.

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    So, just how did an art gallery owner hook up with a bunch of tights-wearing bruisers?

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Raleigh Ensemble Players files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection

Posted by on Fri, May 4, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Two actors in DOG SEES GOD: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, produced by REP in June 2011
Raleigh Ensemble Players (REP), the 30-year old theater company in downtown Raleigh, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

This afternoon, the company sent an email to members of the area theater community confirming that the company had ceased operations, effective immediately: "Following the unanimous adoption of a resolution by REP's Board of Directors, the company has filed for bankruptcy." The email was signed by C. Glen Matthews, the company's artistic director.

According to documents filed yesterday in the United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, REP has $224,507.77 in unsecured debts.

The company has no real property, but its personal assets, including lighting equipment, costumes and props, were valued at $9,932.14.

According to a profit and loss statement for April 2012, REP's monthly expenses included $4,070 in rent and $3,523.65 in office and administrative expenses.

For the first four months of 2012, the company reported revenue of $31,734.78, with nearly 80 percent coming from grants and donations.

The two largest debts are owed to figures associated with the company's new performance space at 213 Fayetteville St., which opened in the summer of 2009.

The largest creditor is Alphin Design Build, the contractor hired to renovate the theater space, which is owed $110,000. The second-largest debt, $60,000, is owed to Jean Pauwels, the owner of the building. Raleigh Ensemble Players does not have equity in the building.

Also listed among more than 20 creditors is Vincent Whitehurst Architect, who is owed $2,489, according to the documents.

Whitehurst and Will Alphin are owners of Foundation, a popular bar located in the basement of 213 Fayetteville St. Whitehurst designed the Raleigh Ensemble Players space and Alphin served as the contractor. Pauwels, the building's owner, operates a business in the same building, a countertop materials supplier called Pyrolave.

Gary Williams, the company's managing director, is owed $10,000 for unpaid wages.

REP, the Triangle's oldest independent theater company, had performed in Artspace, located on East Davie Street, for 20 years prior to its move to Fayetteville Street. In 2011, it was recognized by the Independent Weekly with an Indie Arts award.

In a 2009 article in the Independent Weekly, company artistic director C. Glen Matthews cited a desire for the greater visibility that a permanent downtown home would bring them.

Pauwels, for his part, was looking for a tenant for the four-story building he was renovating.

"I wanted something I would enjoy having around, something more unusual, more fun than a clothing store or fast food," Pauwels told the Indy in 2009. "Some artistic activity in the building would be good for Fayetteville Street, good for everyone. It would make downtown more lively."

But in the same article, the company acknowledged difficulties in paying its contractor.

At the end of March, $100,000 in debt to its contractor, company management asked the builder to stop further work. "We didn't want to get in over our heads more than we already were," said Williams.

There will be a meeting of creditors at 9:30 a.m., May 29, 2012, at 300 Fayetteville Street, Suite 130, Raleigh, NC 27601.

Calls to Alphin, Williams and REP board members Betsy Henderson and Don Davis were not immediately returned.

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