Further Consideration: Kay Thigpen's vision, legacy for Columbia theater is one to endure – Charleston Post Courier

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Mostly cloudy early followed by heavy thunderstorms this afternoon. High 83F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%..
Mostly cloudy with showers and a few thunderstorms. Low near 70F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 50%.
Updated: October 6, 2021 @ 10:33 am
Kay Thigpen. Provided.

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Kay Thigpen. Provided.
When my husband and I moved back to the Midlands from Washington, D.C., in 1986 the fledgling Trustus Theatre was one of the first of Columbia’s cultural offerings to surface on our radar.
There wasn’t a lot going on back in the late ‘80s as most of us were still traumatized by big hair, parachute pants, and Reagan. There were a few stalwart restaurants, a few packed bars — nothing to compare to the entertainment and nightlife we had just left behind. 
But that was OK. We were turning 30 and starting a family — two children sixteen months apart — so our priorities had recently morphed into rewatching a small inventory of David the Gnome on TV and excursions to the grocery store to pile buggies full of Pampers and baby food jars.
But on the odd night when we could remember our pre-parent selves we would yearn to shower and put on clean clothes and venture out into the world for some kind of stimulation that would make us laugh or think or sit in wonder. And we always got that from Trustus Theatre.
This was the purpose of Trustus — and the reason Kay and Jim Thigpen founded it in 1985 — to give Columbia audiences a place where our minds and spirits could grow up and out of the routine and pedestrian boundaries of everyday life and into selves that were more fully realized. More human in all the ways one can be human.
And it was successful.
Trustus Theatre battled growing pains, money problems, a sometimes-intimidated community that didn’t always understand or appreciate what went on inside that dark performance space on Lady Street with its cushy chairs and free popcorn. As it persisted, it grew into the most adventurous, innovative, and ground-breaking institution in the city, if not the state.
Kay Thigpen died on Sept. 20 leaving behind a theatre that was already recently rocked by the departure of the Thigpen’s long-time protégé and heir apparent, Chad Henderson. Kay’s husband, arts partner, and fellow visionary, Jim, had previously died in 2017. (Full disclosure: Henderson is this writer’s son-in-law.) 
The two weeks since Thigpen’s death have been filled with the kind of community grief only an icon can compel.
In the remembrance of Thigpen that Henderson penned for an upcoming issue of Jasper Magazine, he writes about Thigpen’s beloved yet hard to interpret idiosyncrasies, her unwillingness to suffer fools, and her belief that the smartest and best parts of us, as Columbians, would ultimately prevail. 
“As the lights shine on the marquees outside of Trustus Theatre, Kay and Jim are the power making that magic happen,” he writes. “It’s like the kids standing outside of Willy Wonka’s factory: something is going on in that building. Something that started 37 years ago with boldness, confidence, and a belief in this city. They expected more of Columbia artists and audiences, and they gave it to us.”
The legacy that Kay Thigpen left behind was her vision for what theatre could be in the place that she embraced as her home. 
As we learn to move on as an arts community without her honesty, constant presence, and support it is important that we not only acknowledge but sustain her legacy. 
Yes, there is a building called Trustus Theatre, but the lessons learned and dreams fulfilled that make up the vestiges of Kay and Jim Thigpen cannot be contained within its four walls with its new roof and air conditioner. So many artists and audience members gave their talent and trust to the Thigpens that, together, they built not only a theatre but they also created an ethos for professional theatre artists and their progressive audiences to follow.     
Sustaining the Thigpen legacy means not starting over with a clean slate because there is no such thing as a clean slate. 
Dewey Scott-Wiley has generously stepped up as interim arts director, a role she previously played for three seasons, to help the theatre make the transition to new leadership, and that’s a good thing. Scott-Wiley has the intellectual chops and emotional aptitude to understand what needs to be done and what needs to continue in the same vein Kay and Jim intended.
In moving forward, Scott-Wiley and the faithful members of her board of directors must remember that the Thigpen era is more than a blip in the history of Columbia theatre—it is the whole damn picture.
Sustaining the legacy of Kay Thigpen means building on her vision for the institution that she and Jim built. Improvements are fine, but renovations are unnecessary.
Cindi Boiter is a writer, editor and arts advocate. She is the founding editor of Jasper magazine and the Fall Lines literary journal and the executive director of The Jasper Project.
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