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For Deadwyler, Mars was a mission
City cultural affairs director leaving Springfield
tommy 1
Tommy Deadwyler is leaving Springfield and the Mars Theatre to run a new 1,000-seat venue in Henderson, N.C. - photo by File photo

Tommy Deadwyler took the Mars Theatre stage Saturday night in what was one of his final acts, but he’ll have a hand in an epilogue.

Deadwyler will be leaving the city of Springfield as its director of cultural affairs to take over as director of McGregor Hall, a soon-to-open 1,000-seat venue in Henderson, N.C.

“I’m really passionate about what we’ve done and really proud of what we’ve done,” Deadwyler said. “We’ve made some huge strides in a short amount of time. Even though I’m leaving, I’m hoping to guide things in a really positive direction.”

Springfield Mayor Barton Alderman said Deadwyler was going to be difficult to replace.

“I can’t say enough good about Tommy,” Alderman said. “If it were not for Tommy, we would not be where we are right now with the Mars. I don’t think you’ll ever replace him. But we can make the most of the situation.”

The original plan for the Mars was to show second-run movies, but the city has been able to show current productions, including some big-ticket movies, at the Mars. Alderman said he’s asked how Springfield and the Mars are getting these movies.

“It’s basically because of Tommy,” he replied. “All these great artists and concerts is because of Tommy. I think everybody appreciates the contacts he has.”

Deadwyler came to the Mars and the city in August 2013, and he had been the program assistant for Georgia Presenters at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. The city opened the Mars last April, and the theatre has drawn rave reviews from attendees and performers alike.

“When they walk into Mars, they immediately fall in love with it,” he said. “We’ve tried to create a premier listening environment. If you put an artist in a good comfort zone, they’re going to share that experience. Everyone who comes talks about how great it is and how they want to come back.”

The Mars Theatre had been dormant for nearly 50 years when the city purchased it. The once empty shell of a building now has state-of-the-art lighting and sound and seats for 230 on the main floor and the balcony.

“At the beginning, it was in rough shape,” Deadwyler said of the Mars, which had been dormant for more than 50 years before the city purchased it and began to renovate the building. “We had a vision.”

The Mars now has become a draw for out-of-town visitors, Deadwyler pointed out. At Saturday’s performance by Grammy Award-winner Mike Farris, Deadwyler conducted an informal poll of the crowd, and those in attendance hailed from Cairo, Macon, Midway, Shellman Bluff and Aiken, S.C.

“We are turning into a regional venue,” he said. “Anytime you bring people from out of town into your town, that’s a good thing.”

The Mars still is in the stages of building its audience, a three-to-five-year plan, according to Deadwyler.

“We need people to think about the Mars,” he said, “and I think we’re getting there.”

Henderson, in partnership with concerned citizens, started a foundation in 2000 to reverse stagnant growth and educational shortfalls. The foundation, the Embassy Cultural Center Foundation, raised $12 million. The proceeds built the Perry Library, a 40,000 square foot edifice, and an accompanying gallery, “a pretty massive gallery,” Deadwyler said.

“It’s real neat area,” he added. “They have a really neat historic downtown.”

McGregor Hall is designed with a 3,200 square foot stage, cutting-edge audio and lighting and a full-range fly and rigging system. The performing arts center has a $9 million price tag, all raised through private donations.

“This is the final phase of what started back in 2000,” Deadwyler said. “It will be used as an educational facility and a performing arts center. There’s an opportunity to have some really big shows there. It’s really exciting.”

Deadwyler will continue to be involved in booking programs for the Mars for a while. He also envisioned the future for the Mars, including additions to the building to enhance its ability to hold stage productions.

“Somewhere down the line, I think we’ll see the desire to create dressing rooms and green rooms and wing space,” he said, “so we can have more diverse shows. It’s going to open up the doors for more diverse programs, such as theater productions. It really needs to be more accommodating for the artists.”

The city’s push to make the arts a part of downtown revitalization is well on its way, Deadwyler said.

“We’ve made some huge strides really fast,” he added.