by Nancy Gadzuk
Zach Hanner spoke at the July 18, 2016 monthly meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.
Zach was the creator of the informative and entertaining musical production, Summers at Seabreeze, produced in 2015 at TheatreNOW, a performing arts complex in Wilmington featuring dinner theater.
Zach is Artistic Director of TheatreNOW, as well as being a driving force in many other artistic ventures in the Southeast.
Zach talked about his personal experiences that led to the creation of Summers at Seabreeze.
He’d been given the opportunity as a free-lance writer for the Wilmington Star-News to write an article about Seabreeze, the African-American beach community just north of Carolina Beach. But with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns as his role model, Zach wanted to do more than write a single article for the newspaper. And in 2014, he began to do just that.
He read existing writings about the community, including a UNCW master’s thesis on Seabreeze, and contacted about half a dozen former Seabreeze residents who were willing to share their experiences with him.
He learned about the ferry driver on the small ferry running between Seabreeze and Carolina Beach who would “whop rowdy passengers over the head with a cane,” presumably from one of those rowdy passengers. By the time Zach had interviewed three or four people, he said, “I knew I had a show.”
He combined the oral histories of his interviewees with other sources of local history to tell the story of Seabreeze during its heyday in the 20th century as an African-American resort.
Since both food and music were major components of life in Seabreeze, telling its story through a dinner theater production made perfect and delicious sense, with musical greats like Fats Domino visiting Seabreeze and enjoying their famous clam fritters.
I had the good fortune to enjoy Summers at Seabreeze when it played in Wilmington last summer – although as a long-time New Englander, I have to say that clam fritters are supposed to be round spheres, not pancakes like the ones served in Seabreeze. But they were delicious!
While some of the actors in Summers at Seabreeze were seasoned professionals, some were not, and part of the experience, from Zach’s point of view, was to expand and grow all the participants.
Zach would like to stage another, perhaps larger scale, version of the play and hopes to explore that possibility in the future.
Those who saw Summers in Seabreeze last year certainly hope he does.