BWW Interview: Artistic Director Carl Wallnau of CENTENARY STAGE COMPANY Talks About the Future
Broadwayworld New Jersey continues their series of interviews with theatre professionals to learn about how they are adapting to these trying times during the Covid-19 outbreak. We interviewed Carl Wallnau who is currently the Artistic Director of the Centenary Stage Company, an equity theatre located on the campus of Centenary University in Hackettstown, NJ. He is also Professor of Theatre Arts and Chairman of the Fine Arts Department.
Seven productions and auditions for the Summer Musical Series were well underway at Centenary Stage Company when the decision came to suspend the remainder of the 2019/2020 producing season. On a brighter note, Centenary Stage Company is set to release its Summer Producing Schedule Monday, May 11th and its 2020/2021 Producing Season Monday, June 15th.
Get to know Carl Wallnau. His recent acting credits include Willy Clark at CSC and Bristol Riverside Theatre, Juror Number 8 in Twelve Angry Men at the Actors Company, Lionel Percy in Bakersfield Mist at The Bickford theatre, Hermocrates in Triumph Of Love at Bristol Riverside and 18 seasons at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival playing everything from Malvolio in Twelfth Night to Dr. Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles. He has directed numerous productions including the world premieres of Inventing Montana, The Tillie Project and The Poetry of Pizza as well as the American premiere of A Laughing Matter and the New Jersey premieres of Below The Belt, Square One, Rounding Third, Marvin's Room and The English Bride, which later transferred to NYC for a run at 59E59. Wallnau has been cited for outstanding direction in productions of Springtime for Henry, Ladies Man and Quartermaine's Terms among others.
He has worked at numerous regional theatres including Paper Mill Playhouse, The Arden Theatre, Second Stage in NYC, York Musical Theatre in NYC, People's Light, The Lark Theatre, The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Hartford Stage, Bristol Riverside, Forum Theatre, Premiere Stages, Orlando Shakespeare Company, Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Foothills Playhouse, Theatre 1812 in Philadelphia, Barnstormers and 14 months on the road with the First National Tour of Titanic.
He received his MFA from Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts and is married to his favorite actress Colleen Smith Wallnau for who he wrote the play Mary Todd... A Woman Apart which played at Centenary Stage and The Samuel Beckett Theatre Off-Broadway in New York City.
Wallnau answered some of our questions about his career, Centenary Stage Company and their plans for the future.
Your extensive background as an actor, director, professor and Artistic Director is impressive. How do these many roles complement each other?
In some sense they are all the same role. It's all about the theatre. As an actor who still auditions and works (when I can) I am extremely sensitive to the difficulties associated with being a working actor. I know what the audition room is like from both sides of the table. I know what an imposition on an actor's time it can be to attend auditions and numerous callbacks. My respect for actors is unbounded. I think as a director, I do know how best to use an actor's time in rehearsal based on how I like to see time utilized as a performer. I have a sense of what performers need, require and want. Much of what I have learned as technique in directing comes from the influence of directors I have worked with, none more so than Tony Award winner Vivian Matalon. I studied with him as an actor for years, had him come out to direct a play at CSC, (Stephen Temperley's DANCE WITH ME) and assistant directed for him at Hartford Stage with PRESENT LAUGHTER. He had such a precise eye for the details of staging, for being able to give actors specific directions, and his ability to define the real essence of a scene or define the dramatic action was extraordinary. Indeed, much of that aesthetic is something I strive to give to students who are in the student productions I might direct or the classes in ACTING or DIRECTING I might teach. As an artistic director, I find that my sense of having the theatre serve as a cultural resource for the community and a learning resource for our students often go hand in hand. Indeed, I often search for shows in the professional theatre series that might be a benefit for our graduating theatre students. There have been occasions that productions were chosen specifically to give a graduating student a challenging thesis project, either as an actor or a designer. I can't really separate any of these roles. Each influences the other in a fluid yet dynamic way.
Broadwayworld NJ recently had the opportunity to attend the show, "The Sunshine Boys" that you starred in as Willie Clark at Centenary Stage. As a seasoned actor, how were you challenged by the role?
I was fortunate to have played the role a year previously at Bristol Riverside Theatre outside of Philadelphia. I had such an enjoyable experience in a play that I think is one of Simon's best that we decided to bring it to Centenary Stage with the same director, Keith Baker and the same actors, Jason Silverman as my nephew and AllenLewis Rickman as Al Lewis. Prior to the start of rehearsal, we lost Alan to the Encores production of MACK AND MABLE and were fortunate to replace him with another veteran actor, David Edwards. David and I have worked together before but it's always a different dynamic when a new actor steps into a role. Willy Clark is kind of the King Lear of comic roles. Willy never leaves the stage and talks non-stop. There is a kind of vaudeville energy that drives the scenes and it moves like a runaway train. Keeping that energy going is a real challenge. Playing the truth of the situation and not just playing the jokes is what makes the play work, but you have to be aware of the jokes. My thought last year was that I was too young for the part, although I was actually older than Jack Albertson was when he did the original Broadway run. I kept thinking people would say they liked it but thought I was too young. Much to my disappointment, no one ever said a word. That was my delusion. I guess in our own minds, we are always 25. Doing it at Centenary was a little more difficult that doing it at Bristol in that there were a lot of other things on my mind. As artistic director you are worried about publicity, ticket sales, front of house...basically everything but the show itself. Acting at your own theatre is like being the host at a party, you want everyone to enjoy themselves but you spend an inordinate amount of time worrying if there is enough onion dip.
We know that Centenary Stage has a great line-up for its patrons when they are able to open. Can you give us a sneak preview into some of the events you are looking forward to?
Well, this summer we have, if all goes well, our summer musical series which will include FOREVER PLAID and MAMA MIA. We also had to stop rehearsals for our world premiere production of TURNING by Darrah Cloud which has now been rescheduled for June and will, given the current situation most likely be rescheduled again for next November. We are looking at possible titles right now for next season and although we have our concert season locked up, are still in negotiation for the equity theatre season. Our special events include Beginnings, A Chicago tribute band that is second to none. In addition, we will have the NJ Ballet return for their annual two performances, internationally recognized blues singer CeCe Teneal in her show Portrait of a Queen, The Aretha Franklin Story, Cuban Jazz pianist Chuchito Valdes Jr as well as the Brooklyn based global fusion group Blue Dahlia and the roots music group American Patchwork Quartet. We are very hopeful that it will be a fun and challenging season!
We have been very impressed by the wide variety of performances that your company presents. We'd love to know about the team that makes it all happen.
This year we have had an entirely new team in place. A combination of retirements and moves meant that in a span of one month last July, we had an entire office and backstage turnover. Chris Young is our new General Manager taking over for Catherine Rust who, though retired, will continue to serve as the artistic director for the Women Playwright's Series. Chris is also a talented actor who has made appearances on our stage in shows like DRACULA and THE LEARNED LADIES. Now he can do some of the worrying. Georgia Mallory is up from Florida as our Director of Development. Georgia, a talented actress and director is also artistic director of a Children's Theatre Company in Florida. Judith Snyder has taken over as our new technical director and brings over thirty years' experience in professional theatre that she is imparting to our theatre students. We also have a group of resident designers such as Edward Matthews with lights, Martin Kolb with sound and Matthew Imhoff and Tim Golebewski as set designers that bring a commitment and dedication to the theatre that is inspiring. Indeed, we think our production values are second to none. It is those production elements that continue to impress our patrons.
You have a great following in the greater Hackettstown area. How far and wide do theatre patrons travel to Centenary Stage for performances, and why do you think it is such a distinctive destination?
It depends on the show or event. We have people return from Florida to see our productions. When we presented Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young here in concert, we had people flying in from Texas. The shows are first rate productions, the theatre is beautiful, the area is appealing, an idyllic Victorian community that has also become a NJ destination for fine dining. What's not to like?
The outbreak of Covid-19 has greatly disrupted the arts community and their schedules. How have you seen the people and institutions come together in unique ways?
All the NJ theatres are totally supportive of each other. We meet virtually each week to brainstorm and keep each other up to date. We share concerns, ideas, frustrations, and fears. All the theatres are in this together, and that includes our major sponsors as well. Our staff has truly risen to the occasion. I have found in this time of crisis that this community is a great source of comfort and inspiration.
How can all the people who love Centenary Stage continue to support your theatre and mission?
We continue to reach out to our patrons to keep them abreast of our news. This is what we recently said to them:
How can you help? Well, there are things large and small. If you are a current ticket holder you can simply choose to wait rather than ask for a refund, as all current tickets will be transferred to the productions once they are rescheduled. If that isn't convenient, you can return the ticketand keep a box office credit on account for use at a future performance. Even better is the choice of returning your tickets as a donation to thetheatre. For this you will be making a charitable donation for the tickets purchase price. If you are feeling particularly generous, you can go on our website and make a charitable contribution to Centenary Stage Company to help underwrite all of our programs and assist in our goal of keeping our staff on salary while we deal with this crisis. If you've been looking to get involved beyond your ticket, we would love to talk withyou more about how we serve our community and how your time and financial support help us serve our patrons in Northwest New Jersey andbeyond. It's been said that the only people that can save the arts are those who love the arts. We here at Centenary Stage Company certainly hope that we are worthy of that commitment from those who are our friends and patrons. Most of all we hope that when we return, and we will, you will return as well. Stay safe and healthy!
Please share anything else you want Broadwayworld NJ readers to know.
As of now the plan is to present our summer season that will also include special events like the Irish music of the SEAMUS EGAN PROJECT on August 15th and THE BRITISH INVASION, featuring those British music groups of the 60's that conquered the American music scene in a concert on Aug. 22nd as well as our musical productions of FOREVER PLAID July 9-19th and MAMA MIA July 30th-August 9th. Beyond that, we will announce our 2020-2021 season on June 15th.
Centenary Stage Company is located on the campus of Centenary University in Hackettstown, New Jersey. For more information, visit http://www.centenarystageco.org/ or call the Box Office at 908.979.0900. You can also e-mail them, firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting email@example.com. Follow them on social media: Facebook: @centenary.stagecompany; Instagram: @centenarystage; Twitter: @centenarystageco; and YouTube: centenarystageco