From Center Stage to Yale Drama School


June 30, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

If you sat in the right spot at Center Stage's recently concluded production of Charles Ludlam's "The Mystery of Irma Vep," you might have noticed a portrait of a knight in armor hanging in the little hallway on the far left of the set of the musty English manor.

Looking more closely, you could have caught a few anachronistic details: The crest of Yale University was painted in one corner; the school mascot, a bulldog, was painted in another; and the subject of the portrait was wearing glasses.

For that matter, the subject bore an uncanny resemblance to Stan Wojewodski Jr., for whom the production marked his directorial swan song as artistic director of Center Stage, a post he has held since 1977. Tomorrow he begins his official duties in the highly prestigious dual roles of dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre.

For almost as long as Center Stage has been on Calvert Street, Mr. Wojewodski (pronounced Voya-VUDski) has shaped its artistic policy. The portrait on the set of "Irma Vep" was intended as a joke, but it probably wouldn't be too far from the truth to say that, artistically, he has been the theater's knight in shining armor. Or, in the words of Yale University president Benno C. Schmidt Jr., "He took a good regional theater and made it one of the very best in the country."

So perhaps it is not surprising that when Yale presented him with what most people would have considered an offer he couldn't refuse, the 42-year-old artistic director was torn. "I could have refused it, actually," he admitted during an interview the morning after the final performance of "Irma Vep." "It was a very difficult decision. It was tough."

After all, it's only been six months since the realization of one of Mr. Wojewodski's dreams for Center Stage -- the opening of the second performing space, the state-of-the art, flexible-seating Head Theater. As Wil Love, one of the co-stars of "Irma Vep," recalls, "He told me a year ago, 'When that new space opens, they'll never get me out of it.' "

Hearing this now, Mr. Wojewodski laughs, but it is a laugh tinged with some genuine regret. Still, the Head Theater remains a tangible part of his legacy at Center Stage -- even if he won't be here to create a body of work in it.

Another of his dreams, however, did not reach fruition. When he was appointed artistic director, among his goals was the development of a conservatory for training actors and technical personnel, possibly in cooperation with a local university.

The move to Yale, he acknowledges, can be seen as the personal fulfillment of that goal. "I've long believed that the ideal situation would be the creation of a first-rate theater, working closely with a first-rate training program," he says. "Yale is

unique in its achievements and potential in that regard." And indeed, its alumni roster reads like a who's who of stage and screen, including actresses Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver, playwrights Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang, and a slew of award-winning theatrical designers.

Although Mr. Wojewodski doesn't officially become Dean Wojewodski until tomorrow, he has already logged an impressive number of international miles for the school, proving its reputation extends well beyond these shores. Last month he visited the Soviet Union to work on an exchange with the Moscow Art Theater. Three weeks later he attended a conference in Siena, Italy, in preparation for a 1992 international playwriting festival.

Trying on the hat of artistic director of Yale Rep, he selected the theater's 1991-1992 season, which bears several similarities to what we've come to expect at Center Stage. The opening production is a newly revised version of Eric Overmyer's "On the Verge or the Geography of Yearning," which premiered here in 1985 and became the most produced new play on the regional circuit the following season. Another play in the Yale Rep lineup, "My Children! My Africa!", by Athol Fugard, will be part of the coming Center Stage season as well.

The selection of "On the Verge" offers at least a temporary answer to the question of what effect Mr. Wojewodski's departure will have on Center Stage's relationship with Mr. Overmyer, five of whose seven scripts have been produced here, three of them world premieres.

What's more, Mr. Wojewodski has appointed him to teach playwriting part time at Yale. "I'm very happy to maintain my connection with [Mr. Wojewodski]," says Mr. Overmyer, who has described Center Stage as his artistic home. "But I'm very fond of Baltimore, and I hope that that's not all over."

Mr. Wojewodski will also be teaching at Yale this year. In addition to the dean's responsibility for overseeing course work for the three-year graduate program, he'll be teaching a second-year directing class focusing on verse plays, as well as the second semester of third-year acting.

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