The Springer Opera House Celebrates Paul Pierce's 30th Anniversary Season
The Springer Opera House is celebrating Paul Pierce's 30th anniversary season as producing artistic director.
When Pierce arrived in Columbus in 1988, the Springer Opera House had only four employees, an operating budget of just $350,000 and admitted fewer than 10,000 patrons a year. The old theatre was in dilapidated shape despite a partial renovation twenty-three years earlier.
Thirty seasons later, the Springer is one of America's most dynamic and innovative theatre companies. The theatre now has a fulltime staff of twenty-two, a $2.5 million budget and serves more than 110,000 patrons every year. Theatres near and far seek Pierce's counsel on everything from capital campaigns to world premieres and board relations.
Board Chairman Newton Aaron points to Pierce's many successes. "In 1998, the Springer conducted a comprehensive $12 million renovation and historic preservation project that prepared the theatre for another hundred years of service. I was fortunate to be project manager on that renovation." Aaron said. "Add to that, the founding of the Springer Theatre Academy, the creation of a national touring company, the construction of the Dorothy McClure Theatre and education center and, most recently, the advent of the new Georgia Repertory Theatre partnership with CSU and you begin to see the full scope of Paul's leadership and vision."
Pierce's early days at the Springer were not without controversy. He orchestrated a complete restructuring of the organization, condensing an awkward collection of seven boards with different - and often competing - missions into a single governing body. Some volunteers and board members were not happy about the changes and spoke out against them.
The younger Pierce then announced that he planned to upgrade Springer production quality, expand programming and open up auditions nation-wide to professional actors whenever strong choices were not available locally. On the night of his first season audition in 1990, a raucous crowd of local actors set up a picket line outside the theatre, chanting and carrying signs. The police arrived to provide security for actors attempting to cross the picket line and enter the auditions. A rain storm set in and tensions rose. Characteristically, however, once the auditions were over, Pierce invited the rain-soaked protestors inside for barbecue. Eventually, the controversy blew over as Pierce incorporated professionals and Springer audiences grew.
On Saturday, January 13, the Springer will host the "State Theatre Gala" to celebrate Pierce's 30th anniversary. The event will be a major fundraiser for the theatre and will feature a performance by "the King of Hollywood character actors, " Stephen Tobolowsky. From the glad-handing Ned Ryerson in GROUNDHOG DAY to iconic roles in BASIC INSTINCT, MEMENTO, THELMA AND LOUISE, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, GLEE, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, DEADWOOD, THE GOLDBERGS and SILICON VALLEY, Tobolowsky has put his mark on over 250 Hollywood movies and tv series. He is a masterful story-teller with an acclaimed podcast called
The Tobolowsky Files and two best-selling books - The Dangerous Animals Club and My Adventures with God.
Tobolowsky will conduct a book signing for "My Adventures with God" at the Springer Saloon on Friday, January 12 from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. Light refreshments will be available, as well as a cash bar. On Saturday morning, Tobolowsky and his wife, Hollywood actress Ann Hearn, will host a symposium for CSU Theatre majors and Springer Theatre Academy students.
Many of Pierce's family, friends and colleagues from around the country will travel to Columbus for the celebration, including Drexel H. Riley, the 85 year-old founding director of the Repertory Theatre of America. Riley, now retired in Texas, hired Pierce as a national touring actor right out of the University of Georgia in 1977 and eventually appointed him associate artistic director in 1982.
Pierce names Riley as his mentor. "Anything important that I know about running theatres I learned from Drexel," Pierce says. "From how to entertain audiences to how one treats employees and customers, Drexel was the one who set the standard for me early in my career.." Pierce remains close friends with Riley and his wife, Jackie, who will also travel to Columbus for the gala.
Prior to taking the job at the Springer in 1988, Pierce was managing director of Virginia's Wayside Theatre in the Shenandoah Valley, producing artistic director of the Harbor Playhouse in Corpus Christi, Texas and associate artistic director of the Repertory Theatre of America.
In 2014, Governor Nathan Deal presented the Governor's Award for the Arts to Pierce for his lifetime service to the arts in Georgia. In the same year, Georgia Trend Magazine named him one of 100 Most Notable Georgians.
General public ticket sales to the State Theatre Gala begin on Friday December 15 at 10:00 a.m. and are available through the Springer Box Office located at 103 10th Street in Columbus. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 706-327-3688 or online at springeroperahouse.org.