Jessica Francis Fichter envisioned her theater career revolving around the epicenter of the art form — New York City. There, in the glitz and prestige of Broadway and off-Broadway productions, she began to find her footing.
Fichter and her sister wrote and staged a musical called “Dandelion”while in New York City. She had lined up to go to a theater festival in Romania and had theaters express interest in bringing “Dandelion” to their stages. Her graduate school also had a repertory season off-Broadway in the city, as well.
Then, like so much of the last two years, the pandemic came and disrupted all of those things. Fichter returned home to Columbia.
“It was just a lot of things that didn’t come to fruition,” Fichter said. “But life happens and changes and evolves. My home is here, my parents are here. I have two children. So I think everything in the universe was just telling me it was time to come back.”
On Jan. 4, Fichter was named the new executive director at Trustus Theatre, the city’s most prominent theater. Her appointment comes after a monthslong search that happened amid a turbulent time for Trustus and arts organizations throughout the city.
Yet, the theater’s remaining staff got to work on finding avenues for money when performances — which typically make up about 50%-60% of the theater’s revenue, according to interim artistic director Dewey Scott-Wiley — were defunct or virtual.
Sumner Bender, the president of the theater’s board, wept when the theater received a Shuttered Venues Operating Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration for $160,000.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater battled lengthy shutdowns and a cautious reopening with equally cautious theatergoers.
But things were complicated further, its longtime employee Chad Henderson, who had been executive director most recently, left for a new job. Then in September, the theater’s cofounder Kay Thigpen died. She started Trustus with her husband Jim, who died in 2017.
The theater has managed to field a season that is currently ongoing and gearing up to debut “tick, tick… BOOM!” on Jan. 21, behind interim artistic director Dewey Scott-Wiley. All the while, the theater was undergoing a search for what would eventually be Fichter.
“Maintaining what Jim and Kay did … it adds a whole other level of pressure,” Bender said. “You have to keep the memory alive.”
The stage at Trustus …….