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Philly People Behind The Curtain: Terrence J. Nolan

The Arden Theatre Company is dedicated to bringing to life the greatest stories by the greatest storytellers of all time. They draw from any source that is inherently dramatic and theatrical – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, music and drama. The Arden presents programs for the diverse greater Philadelphia community that arouse, provoke, challenge, illuminate and inspire.

Founded in 1988 by Terrence J. Nolen, Amy Murphy and Aaron Posner, Arden Theatre Company began producing at the 70-seat Walnut Street Theatre Studio and was immediately hailed as a welcome addition to the Philadelphia theatre community. After our second season, we co-founded the St. Stephen's Performing Arts Center to provide us with a larger theatre (150 seats) and a unified location for classes, education programs, administrative offices and production shops. Our five seasons at St. Stephen's were marked with continued growth.

In 1995, Arden Theatre Company purchased a 50,000-square-foot building in Philadelphia's historic Old City neighborhood. The building has been renovated to contain a 360-seat mainstage theatre (F. Otto Haas Stage); the 175-seat studio theatre (Arcadia Stage); the Independence Foundation Studio; a bi-level lobby with box office, elevator and restrooms; rehearsal and classroom space; and administrative and production offices. Our move to our new home sparked even more growth for the Arden, and played a significant role in the economic revitalization of Old City.

Terry Nolan, as he likes to be known, graciously agreed to spare some time for us as he prepares to launch the Arden's 2007-08 season with Stephen Sondheim's brilliantly intense musical Assassins.

Since our founding in 1988, they have garnered numerous awards and honors from critics and audiences alike, including six Philadelphia magazine "Best of Philly" Awards, four Philadelphia City Paper Reader's Choice Awards and four "Theatre Company of the Year" citations from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Since the inception of the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre in 1995, Arden Theatre Company has received 182 nominations and 35 awards.

Terrence J. Nolan himself has been awarded several Barrymore awards. Most recently in 2006 best director for Opus and Winesberg, Ohio. In 2005 The Arden took Philly by surprise with its blockbuster production of Sweeney Todd winning several Barrymore nominations and awards including "outstanding musical" and again Nolan accepting the best director award for that production.

I was intrigued by Nolan's creative choices and wanted to know what he looked for when choosing a work to direct? "I always look for something that excites me, stirs me, and compels me in a slightly new way. I'm attracted to plays and musicals that have interesting narratives, great unique storytelling. For me it's always a process of falling in love; getting lost inside of the piece, to feel in some way, part of it. After I've read it, explored it and I'm convinced, then I'm sort of desperate to bring it to life," says Nolan.

Pati Buehler: What attracted you with Assassins?

Terrence Nolan: I have to admit, when I first heard that Stephen Sondheim was writing a musical about presidential assassins, I had my doubts. The year was 1990, America was involved in a Gulf War and the first President George Bush occupied the Oval Office. Why write a musical about such a dangerous and disturbing topic? Writing a musical about a demon barber and his cannibalistic pie-baking partner was one thing…but presidential assassins?

And yet as I listened to the original cast recording, I was swept away with what Sondheim and Weidman had created. Drawing from a wide range of American musical traditions – from Sousa to Copeland to barbershop quartets -- here was, to quote Walt Whitman, "America singing." I was drawn in by these remarkable portraits of men and women who pursued the American Dream and somehow took a very wrong turn. In this collection of misfits, I saw images of an America that I knew existed. Like so many of Stephen Sondheim's musicals, Assassins took me to a place I don't normally go.

There is a Philadelphia connection to the genesis of this musical. The idea for Assassins came from Charlie Gilbert, an accomplished writer and composer who runs the musical theatre program at the University of the Arts.  Years ago, Charlie wrote a musical also entitled Assassins. Upon reading it, Sondheim asked Charlie if he could use his idea as a springboard for his own musical, to which Charlie graciously agreed. And so the musical you are about to see was born.

Pati: If there is a thought process that you can share; what are the three or four steps that transform the "page to stage" process into a production?

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Pati Buehler Pati has been involved in various aspects of theater for about 25 years; from writing reviews and interviews for the past 10 years to producing theater events. Pati also runs PB Entertainment Agency working with several Broadway and Regional performers booking workshops/Master classes, concerts and theater programs for high schools, colleges and theater groups. She also works raising funds for non profit organizations.

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