Consultant lives, performs in Salisbury while developing 10-year tourism plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — By day, Michael Weaver assessed Salisbury and Rowan County with the trained, experienced eye of an outsider.
By night, he played the lead role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” with the nose, so to speak, of an insider.
Weaver lived among us for more than seven weeks as a consultant writing a 10-year strategic plan for Salisbury and Rowan County’s tourism development efforts.
He also starred in the Piedmont Players’ production of “Cyrano,” the story of the big-nosed poet/soldier from 17th century France.
Weaver rented an apartment at the Firehouse Lofts on South Lee Street — and loved it. He walked to work at the tourism office, which was a block away.
And for five weeks of nightly rehearsals and two weeks of production, he strolled across the street to the Meroney Theater.
Weaver would go days without getting into his car. It seemed at times as though he were back in New York, working again for a high-brow ad agency.
The “Cyrano” production has ended, and the 61-year-old Weaver has returned to Hilton Head, S.C., while putting the finishing touches on his part of the 10-year plan, which is supposed to be submitted next month.
Making an impression
Salisbury and Rowan County made an impression on Weaver. The city and county already have history and heritage in place that many other communities are trying to restore, develop or re-create, he says.
It’s the difference between having a real wooden fence and one made out of Disney plastic, according to Weaver.
While the preserved history is important to making tourism an even bigger economic development tool, cultural activities will be paramount, Weaver says.
He also stresses the growth of “outdoor appeal.” Visitors will want to see what farm life is like, and they will seek to take advantage of hiking and biking opportunities, scenic drives through the country and canoeing and kayaking on the river and lakes.
These three things: culture, history-heritage and outdoor experiences add up to “excellent critical mass,” Weaver says.
He thinks folks here can make it work, too.
He lived Salisbury’s theater experience, didn’t he?
Weaver grew up in Harrisonville, Mo., a small-town county seat in a farming area near the Kansas border.
His parents ran a dry goods store on the town square. Farmers came in every Saturday to do their “trading” — that’s what they called it, rather than shopping.
Weaver remembers the conversations usually touched on politics, crops and the weather. His first job as a youngster was sweeping out the store every night.
The Gridiron
Weaver earned All-State football honors in high school as a center and linebacker, but he was small by big-school standards, and the University of Missouri didn’t offer him a scholarship.
The publisher of his hometown newspaper still encouraged him to enroll at Missouri, where the School of Journalism was and remains one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
Meanwhile, Weaver decided he also would try out for the football team as a walk-on.
“I went out with the idea I could be a long snapper,” he recalls.
But Weaver soon proved to the coaches he was much more valuable as a defensive player. College football teams were less star-oriented then, Weaver says, and coaches could take “a guy of moderate talent like me” and make him a valuable player — in Weaver’s case a small, but smart defensive lineman for Coach Dan Devine.
Weaver eventually earned a full football scholarship and played in the 1970 Orange Bowl for Missouri against Penn State University. The Tigers lost the defensive battle, 10-3.
Weaver chose the advertising sequence in the School of Journalism and flourished there as well, finding the program populated by ambitious, talented people, many of whom, Weaver included, were bent on getting to the major ad agencies in New York.
The Big Apple
Weaver briefly worked for newspapers in Michigan, and he backpacked through Europe for three months before moving to New York with $800 to his name.
Within three weeks, he started with the well-known Marsteller Inc. agency. Over 25 years in New York, which also included years at J. Walter Thompson, Weaver toiled on important ad campaigns for Pepsi, IBM, Miller Brewing, Wendy’s and Jeep.
He also would have agency stints in Los Angeles and Kansas City and work at one time with ad man Donny Deutsch.
How closely does his experience in New York jibe with the stories and characters depicted in the television series “Mad Men?” The series is set in New York in the early and mid- 1960s.
Weaver arrived in New York in 1973, and “those were the guys who hired me,” he says. By then, he found the women in the industry to be more assertive than what the early “Mad Men” suggests, and “there was less drinking in the office than you see there.”
But of certain episodes and their plots, Weaver adds, “at least two or three situations, I was actually in.”
“The authenticity, in some ways, is uncannily accurate,” he says.
People always would comment about how tough the business could be, given the competition between the various advertising agencies.
Weaver disagrees on that point.
“The thing that keeps you up at night is the competition within your own organizations,” he says, describing a sometimes ruthless behavior among employees for the same company. “That’s what made it hard.”
When it became apparent someone in his business didn’t have to live in New York any longer, he moved to Hilton Head, S.C., in 2001 and became exposed quickly to the “visitor” industry, a term often preferred over “tourist” or “tourism.”
The visitor industry became his area of expertise over the past decade. Today, he’s a principal in Street Smart Consulting, which grew out of his connection to Gary Smith’s marketing firm in Fayetteville.
In the spotlight
Weaver says he has always felt a calling toward the stage. While he was in Michigan, he landed roles in three different productions of a repertoire company, but he put his acting career on hold during all those years in New York.
Over a breakfast in Hilton Head in 2008, a director friend from New York persuaded him to try out for a professional production of “Camelot,” and Weaver won a part.
He has been in a dozen or so professional and community productions since then. He decided to audition for “Cyrano” after reading some glowing reports about Piedmont Players from focus group interviews.
“It meant more than any other character I played before,” Weaver says of the experience. “It was a lifetime role for me.”
Weaver thinks he also played a part in an enlightening moment for Salisbury.
In the second week of “Cyrano” at the Meroney Theater, The Norvell was open for “Honk Jr.” on the same nights. Each of the theaters had hundreds of people in the seats.
The two plays — ideally segmented — didn’t cannibalize each other, and it shows that Salisbury is big enough and can be dimensioned enough to offer cultural events that overlap.
With art and culture, Weaver explains, 2 plus 2 equals 5.
“The more people get of it, the more they want it,” he says. “There’s the perfect example.”
The nose knows.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@