Terry Costa, the 27-year-old founder of Ontario, Canada's UNI Theatre, who had been reported missing since May 22, turned up at New York's Kennedy Airport yesterday, June 12. A UNI theatre office worker told Playbill On-Line (June 13) that Costa was "found at JFK. He was confused, disoriented and physically fine. His sister [Ilda Sousa] has gone to pick him up."
No further details were given, though a writer for the Toronto Globe and Mail had mentioned that Costa had just flown back from Portugal and was taken into Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric observation.
As reported by The Daily News June 7, actor-producer Costa had driven to Manhattan — apparently to attend a theatre conference — and hadn't been seen since he apparently checked out of the Days Inn hotel in Times Square on May 22. Police found his pickup truck in a parking lot by the inn, Lt. Thomas Moroney told the News.
"In my heart, I know something has happened to him," Costa's sister, Ilda Sousa, told the News, adding that, "the theatre was his passion."
A call by Playbill On-Line to Costa's listed home phone number reached a recording saying the occupant's voice mailbox was full and not taking any messages. Located in Mississauga, Ontario, the UNI Theatre was founded June 26, 1997. According to the company's website (www.uni-theatre.com), managing artistic director Costa "was raised in Pico Island, Azores (Portugal). At the age of 15 he landed in Canada where he was re-born... He is an Honours Graduate Specialist of the University of Toronto in Mississauga Theatre & Drama Studies Program... [and] he also trained for two years at the school of Toronto Dance Theatre." His directing projects have included Torch River, A Clockwork Orange, The Eight Reindeer Monologues and his own Bite It!
Krista J. Conkin, public relations manager of UNI, told PBOL the company waited a few days to start sending out press releases and inform the international media about Costa's disappearance because, "We do have a whole season and wanted to wait and make sure that Terry was missing and not just taking some extended vacation." That said, Conkin added, "Terry is not a flighty artist type. This company was his whole life, and he missed a major event that weekend. For him to have told us he's coming back the next day, then stay in New York and not contact one person is so unlike him."
Trying to piece together Costa's itinerary, Conkin told PBOL, "He left May 14 to go to Staten Island, but we're not sure if the [theatre] conference was there. We assume he was [in New York] the whole week because we had a phone call from him on May 17. The call was your basic phone call; unfortunately, it was from a pay phone using a calling card — very difficult to trace. He collected all his messages and said we could expect him home the next day and in the office on May 19. He said the Conference was going well. But we don't know who held the conference. We do know he was being paid for; it was an honor only being given to four Canadians to attend the conference fully paid.
"Somewhere May 18-22, his truck got to the Days Inn parking lot," continued Conkin. "He checked in and out of the hotel twice. But do we know it was Terry? There's no definite proof that it was Terry who checked in. It could have been him, but it also could have been someone saying he was Costa and paying with cash." (Lt. Moroney noted that the police do believe "strongly" that it was Costa who checked in and out of the hotel.)
Didn't the room being paid in cash send up a few warning flags? "We know that Terry took a cash advance from his own Visa," Conkin told PBOL. "And there was no money missing from the [UNI] company because the producers of the shows happening this summer are affiliated with a separate source. Terry had no access to any of the money, so this wasn't a case of embezzling funds."
Cultural affairs officer at the Canadian Consulate in Manhattan, Lilie Zendel, told PBOL the Consulate has opened an official file on Costa but that they have little information. "I think it's been established that there really was no conference," Zendel said. "Which puts a bizarre twist on the whole thing."
To help get the word out on their missing chief, the UNI's "Dream Team" squad, comprising youths 30 and under who work on pre-production, started an e-mail and chain mail list. "We've been doing an awful lot," said Conkin. "We're doing as much as we can but still trying to keep the company going. [Costa] was the company. He knew about financing things. We do have a new director in place, Vinetta Strombergs. She's been doing theatre for a long time. She understands his vision and how he works as a director."
The company's next show, an outdoor staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream opening July 25, happens to be "Terry's dream show to produce," said Conkin.
— By David Lefkowitz