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Kaleideum puts theater for children on hold through 2021

Peppercorn Theatre has been producing shows for the young audiences at Kaleideum since its founders were still in college and Kaleideum was still the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem.

Now, they’re not.

Earlier this week, Kaleideum posted on its Facebook page: “While Kaleideum is hopeful that we will reopen the Kaleideum North campus to visitors in July, we regret to announce that Kaleideum’s Peppercorn Theatre will be suspending programming through the summer of 2021 as we plan for the future and navigate the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. ...

“Kaleideum remains committed to live storytelling and we look forward to presenting theatre programming again when it is safe to do so. Thank you for your support of Peppercorn Theatre at Kaleideum.”

Elizabeth Dampier, executive director of Kaleideum, said, “It’s a difficult decision, but we are going to put Peppercorn Theatre on hiatus for one fiscal year and then reassess.

“We are definitely committed to theater programming and theater performance. We are not dropping that aspect of our programming. We had staffing impacted across the museum, not just in that department.”

In 2011, while they were students at UNC School of the Arts, John Bowhers, artistic director; and Anna Rooney, producing director, offered to provide the museum’s summer programming in return for a space to work. Harry Poster joined them in their second season and became artistic director in the fifth season. Steven Kopp was artistic director their second through fourth seasons.

Poster is currently the producer at the Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences in Washington, D.C., part of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, and Rooney was a freelance producer in New York before moving to Savannah, Ga.

The company wrote and produced three plays at the Children’s Museum their first summer. For the next three summers, they did three original plays a year in venues throughout the city, including Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

In October of 2014, Peppercorn merged with the Children’s Museum and became its programming arm.

In addition to presenting six original plays a year in a designated theater space, Peppercorn has provided pop-up theater activities during regular museum hours and provided 20-minute immersive field-trip programs that blended theater and education.

By the time the coronavirus hit in mid-March, Peppercorn had done nine seasons in Winston-Salem, presenting at Head Start, in Yadkin County Schools and Forsyth County Public Libraries, as well as at Kaleideum.

Bowhers said that when the layoffs came, he was disappointed but not terribly surprised.

“We’ve been asked to decrease our budget every year,” he said. “I was beginning to feel like we couldn’t make the kind of theater we wanted to make on the kind of budget we were being given.”

Peppercorn produced original work by national professional theater artists who spent time in the local community to create plays through a local lens. The artists who wrote and taught for Peppercorn have included Hannah Wolf, Naomi Shafer, CQ Quintana, Rebecca Cunningham, Adam Taylor, Kimberly Belflower and Angelica Chéri.

Dionna Daniel, a Winston-Salem native who lives in Los Angeles, was working on a play for the theater’s fall season, but that play has been put on hold.

“The piece speaks directly to what is going on right now. It was going to be about the coast and Pea Island and a lighthouse that was operated by an all-black rescue team,” she said. The play dealt with the African deity Yemaya who rescues enslaved people who were thrown overboard.

By January, Kaleideum had downsized the theater staff to Bowhers as producing director and Corinne Bass, who was managing director. In mid-March, when the museum shut down, the theater had planned to reorganize to make Bass producing director. Bowhers was to come back for the month of April and then become a contract worker.

“I think the museum made the right decision to suspend theater programming,” Bowhers said. “I understand that they are having to make hard financial choices.”

Bowhers is using his down time to get a graduate certificate in puppetry arts at a school in Connecticut. He is also doing freelance design jobs in theater and graphics.

“I’ll find way to have a presence in the Winston-Salem arts scene,” he said.

The museum’s north campus is open for summer camp, but Kaleideum is not open for visitors.

“I have a very special place in my heart for Peppercorn and what they have done,” Dampier said. “We are all facing things that we never thought we’d face and having challenges that we never expected.”

Bowhers said that he will remain committed to creating theater for young audiences.

“I feel like theater for young audiences and for the very young is just about the most important work that you can do,” he said. “I do feel strongly that I want to be involved in the conversation and have a relationship with the museum in some capacity when it opens back up.

“I hope there will be a place for the artists who were putting so much of themselves into making quality theater for young audiences.

“I’d like to see it come back strong. The museum was filling a need, and we saw the impact when we were doing it.”

Protest organizers say Winston-Salem police used intimidation tactics; police cite public safety concerns. Protests were over death of John Neville.

Two groups that have organized protests over the death of a Greensboro man who had been held at the Forsyth County Jail accused Winston-Salem police Friday of using intimidation tactics and demanded the dismissal of criminal charges against 20 people who were arrested over the past two days.

Protesters demonstrated in front of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The protests followed the announcement of Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill that five former detention officers and a nurse had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Dec. 4, 2019 death of John Elliott Neville.

Neville, 56, died of a brain injury at the hospital two days after arriving at the jail. During a struggle with detention officers after suffering an apparent seizure, Neville said, “I can’t breathe,” as detention officers held him in a controversial restraint technique.

The Unity Coalition and Triad Abolition Project said in the statement that police used intimidation tactics on Wednesday by “blocking protesters ... on the street outside the Public Safety Building” on Church Street.

In their statement, the organizers said that the charge, “impeding traffic” was often used by law-enforcement officers during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s to intimidate activists.

The Unity Coalition and Triad Abolition Project said that the Thursday night protest, which had about 40 people, was in direct response to what happened on Wednesday.

“At around 11 p.m. demonstrators began to walk in groups of two or three into the street in an act of civil disobedience,” the statement said.

Winston-Salem police arrested four protesters on Wednesday night and charged them with impeding traffic. Another protester was later arrested and charged with impeding traffic.

On Thursday, police arrested 15 people and charged them with impeding traffic. Winston-Salem police said that the protesters did not comply with commands to stay on the sidewalk and not go into the middle of the street.

The protesters stopped on Third Street Thursday night during their demonstration. Calvin Peña, a protest organizer, asked the demonstrators if they were prepared to be arrested by police later on Thursday. Many protesters raised their hands, indicating they were willing.

After the 15 people were arrested, the remaining demonstrators set up food, snacks and supplies outside the magistrate’s office, according to the groups. Cheers went up as each person was released on a written promise to appear, the statement said.

“This action was intentional, organized and widely supported by members of the Winston-Salem and Forsyth County community as a method of social justice protest with a long history in the U.S. and around the world,” the statement said.

The groups criticized Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson, who they said broke a promise to protect peaceful protests. The group’s statement also noted what it described as O’Neill’s warning that law enforcement would prosecute protesters “not complying with law enforcement’s newly outlined command to remain on sidewalks during any protest action.”

O’Neill responded to the protesters’ statement in a message Friday night to the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I would suggest that they spend a moment to actually read the article in The New York Times covering the press conference to educate themselves that what I said was that I supported an individual’s right to protest peacefully, but that those who chose to cross the line and break the law that they, too, would be prosecuted,” O’Neill said.

Thompson could not immediately be reached Friday night for comment.

“Laws like the one used to criminalize peaceful protests this week were written to intimidate those demanding transparency, accountability and safety from law enforcement,” the statement said. “In 2020, we stand in the street in an act of civil disobedience, an act of nonviolent direct action, because our brother, sisters and siblings are being murdered, mistreated, abused and neglected in the county jail here in Winston-Salem and in many places across the country.”

The Unity Coalition and Triad Abolition Project demanded that the charges be dismissed and called for police to stop intimidation tactics against protesters.

Before Thursday night’s protest, Police Lt. Todd Hart told the demonstrators not to block the streets, police said in a statement on Friday. When the protesters stood in Church Street, an officer told them they were violating a state law by impeding traffic and ordered them to return to the sidewalk.

Several protesters refused to comply, and officers arrested them, police said.

“It was dark and this roadway was open to vehicular traffic, posing a safety concern,” the police said in its statement.

A group of 16 demonstrators gathered on a rainy Friday night in front of the Forsyth County Public Safety Office to keep public attention on the Winston-Salem Police Department and the sheriff’s office.

The rally was against the “Criminalization of Peaceful Protests,” according to the Unity Coalition that staged the event.

They had signs that said, “Be In All Ways Anti-Racist,” “Silence Is Not An Option,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Defund the Police” and “No Justice. No Peace.”

“We are not letting up,” Peña said to the protesters who gathered under a tent on Church Street near its intersection with Third Street. “This is a chess game. (Police) want to say that protests are illegal. We are not scared of that.”

The protesters stayed on the Church Street sidewalk during their demonstration. Officers in three police cars monitored them.

Brittany Battle, another protest organizer, said that Thursday night’s arrests also captured public attention.

“Those 15 arrests made a big, big, big splash,” Battle said.

The protesters then listened to a recorded speech delivered by Angela Davis on a public-address system inside a demonstrator’s car parked on the street. Davis, 76, is a political activist, scholar and author.

Davis said that President Barack Obama should have granted clemency to political prisoners in federal custody. Inmates in state and federal prisons also should be allowed to join labor unions and be paid adequate wages for their work behind bars to support their families, Davis said.

After Davis’ speech ended, Battle led a discussion with the protesters about Davis’ remarks.

Forsyth County reports 2 more COVID-19 deaths, 55 new cases

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Forsyth County continued its steady increase, with 55 new cases and two deaths announced Friday.

The latest two deaths bring the county-wide death toll to 39. The Forsyth County Department of Public Health didn’t provide any information about the deceased. At least five of the 39 COVID-19-related deaths in the county have been people living in nursing homes.

Friday’s 55 new cases align with the county’s seven-day rolling average of new cases — about 56 new cases a day.

Of the 3,580 total COVID-19 cases in the county, 2,200 people have recovered.

Forsyth’s highest daily case increase remains 162 on June 1.

Hospitalizations across North Carolina increased slightly from Thursday, with 1,046 people hospitalized Friday, compared with 1,034 the day before, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data.

Across the state, more than 81,330 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19, and nearly 1,500 have died.

At least 11 detention officers in the Forsyth County jail had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday, according to the latest available data.

A probation and parole intake officer who had been on the third floor of the Forsyth County Hall of Justice tested positive for COVID-19, according to an email from Tawana Grogan, chief assistant at the Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court’s office.

The officer did not come into contact with anyone and wore a mask the entire time while in the courthouse. The county, Grogan wrote, has been notified and the third floor will undergo a thorough cleaning this weekend.

The total number of people tested in North Carolina continues to fluctuate, but the seven-day rolling average on the percentage of people who test positive remains the same, according to the DHHS.

Over the last seven days, about 10% of everyone tested for the virus had it, but, earlier in the week, the number of tests completed day-to-day changed by as much as 10,000.

$800K bond for former church treasurer accused of stealing hundreds of thousands

A Lexington man entrusted with a Winston-Salem church’s finances stole at least $668,000 from the church and the retirement accounts of people from the church and his family whom he recruited to invest in what were essentially fake companies, an agent with the N.C. Secretary of State testified in court on Friday.

Carol A. Stone, the agent, said in Forsyth Superior Court that Kenneth Ray Sullivan Jr., who is facing criminal charges, might have stolen even more money, but investigators don’t know how much because they keep discovering more accounts that Sullivan created to funnel money for his personal benefit. Sullivan had control over finances for Grace Presbyterian Church on Carver School Road.

She said Sullivan also attempted to illegally obtain another $429,000 by applying for credit cards and personal loans under other people’s names, including his parents and his girlfriend. Stone said investigators have identified about 100 different accounts that Sullivan may have created. She said he also bragged that he had offices in Chicago and research facilities in Hong Kong and London.

“We haven’t tracked down all of these accounts,” she said in Forsyth Superior Court.

Stone was testifying as part of a hearing to determine if Sullivan should continue to be held at the Forsyth County Jail under a $3 million bond. Sullivan faces charges of securities fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses. Additional charges were filed against him this week, including one charge of exploitation of a disabled or elderly person.

Kenny Faulkner, a church official who attended the hearing, said that church leaders found out on Sept. 12, 2018, that “the church didn’t have a dime.” Church leaders had even thought they had paid off the mortgage, he said, but later learned they had an outstanding balance of $14,000.

Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court called the $3 million bond “excessive” and punitive and decided to reduce it to $800,000.

Sullivan and his family had been members of Grace Presbyterian Church for years and Sullivan eventually became the church’s clerk of session. He was essentially the church’s treasurer and had control over its financial accounts.

Stone said her investigation found that Sullivan made multiple transfers of money from the church’s accounts every day, which would be unusual. The money, Stone said, was being used for Sullivan’s personal benefit. That included paying off student loans and credit cards and making other purchases, she said.

A pending lawsuit filed by Grace Presbyterian Church over the allegations said that Sullivan bragged on social media about his newfound wealth and posted pictures of himself with $50 bills and $100 bills on his lap. Andrew Fitzgerald, an attorney for the church, has said that Sullivan would write checks that required an endorsement from him and another person on the church’s board, but would instead forge the other endorsement. Sullivan also would fraudulently open bank accounts in the church’s name and deposit money from the church into them, Fitzgerald has said.

Sullivan also recruited members of the church, which included members of his family and other friends, to invest in three of his companies, none of which had any assets. The companies existed primarily on paper. Sullivan is accused of creating a series of “buy orders” or letters to remove money from the Individual Retirement Accounts of several people, including his parents, Cynthia and Kenneth Ray Sullivan Sr.

According to prosecutors and investigators, Sullivan claimed to use the retirement funds so that people could buy shares in his companies — Prodigy Capital Management, the Sullivan Agency and Lion of Judah Properties. Indictments allege that Sullivan reported fake account values to the investors or in communication with American IRA to cover up what he did.

Michael Grace, Sullivan’s attorney argued that Sullivan should not be in jail. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty and does not have a previous criminal record, Grace said.

“He is not a danger to anyone,” he said. “He has no access to anyone’s money.”

Grace also noted the present COVID-19 pandemic and the potential health risks his client faces while in the Forsyth County Jail. Grace, who is over the age of 65, said he is at increased risk of severe complications if he gets COVID-19.

“I don’t want to go to the jail,” he said. “The old rules and regulations that mandated the way we did things will have to be adjusted.”

But Sherri Sullivan, who is Kenneth Sullivan’s cousin and is a probation officer in Mecklenburg County, strongly objected to the bond being reduced. She is one of the alleged victims in the case. Sherri Sullivan said her cousin was raised by hardworking parents and received a good education.

“Why he decided to throw away all of that potential to become a con man is beyond me,” she said.

She said if her cousin was released from jail, he would have the opportunity to prey on more people.

Assistant District Attorney Jessica Spencer said that the fact that investigators still don’t know how much money Sullivan may have misappropriated means that he could have the financial means to flee if he is released. If convicted, Sullivan could face as much as 30 years in prison on just some of the felony charges, she said.

Faulkner said church members are still hurting over what Sullivan is accused of doing. “I can’t even look at him now,” he said.