Meet Wesleyan’s New Theater Program Director

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Professor Nate Gross, MFA, agreed to sit down and chat about his history in theatre, as well as his plans for our program’s future. Be sure to see his first Kentucky Wesleyan production, The Heidi Chronicles,  November 9th-12th, in Hager Hall!

This is your first semester at Kentucky Wesleyan. Can you tell me about your background in theatre?
NG: I’ve been doing theatre all my life. Literally, my elementary school teachers started putting me in plays, and so acting was my first theatre love. I did that all through school, then I moved to California on a motorcycle and went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, a conservatory. When I was at the Academy, my dreams and goals started to shift from wanting to be just a famous movie star to just loving the craft of acting and directing and wanting what I have now: a theatre program in a college. I still intend to act, and also direct here and perhaps other places.

What sort of things did you do while you were in school?
NG: I was on a soap opera called The Bold and Beautiful for a while – a small role, I was the waiter in a coffee shop – even while I was working on my Bachelor’s degree in history. I did a lot of Shakespeare, some television, some independent films, and a low-budget horror movie where I had hold myself up on two chairs so I could dangle my feet as they squirted fake blood on them with a syringe.

Why the Bachelor’s in history?
NG: Part of choosing History was with some theatre goals in mind, since I love classical theatre and Shakespeare. After graduating from the University of Arizona with an MFA, my wife and some friends and I started a theatre company in California. We did mostly classics, like Shakespeare, and some non-classics, like Grease.

You’ve mentioned Grease before; you like it a lot, don’t you?
NG: I do like it a lot. It’s a show that gets people excited, and the songs are fun. You can’t really do a show that you don’t love; I’ve learned that from personal experience.

What was the show you didn’t love?
NG: It was The Wizard of Oz. It’s a great show. I don’t mind watching it, and my kids love it; but I’m not passionate about directing it, and you can’t direct a show that you’re not passionate about. It was a lesson for me.

Given your training and experiences with other schools and companies, what is your vision for our theatre program at KWC?
NG: I’m excited about the vision for this program. I think there’s already a lot of quality here, and certainly a lot of talented students, and I want to grow the training and the system. I want there to be a consistent audience, too, and I think Owensboro has an audience ready to give us full houses. I am also excited to be partnering with Brescia and OCTC, and I’m hoping that partnership will look a lot like the Gainesville Theatre Alliance (GTA), where two small colleges (Gainesville Junior College and Brenau University) combined and are now one of the most successful programs in the country.

So you’re looking to build a lot of partnerships.
NG: Yes. I took Jim Hammond, the current artistic Director of GTA, out to lunch and picked his brain about everything that we could do here. Actually, Carolyn Greer, the theatre director at Owensboro High School, told me that she went to Brenau around the time that their alliance started. Partnerships are made through students, but also through the community. I’d even like to bring some professionals into productions. I think Riverpark Center is the place to do our bigger shows, and that’s where the spring show will be.

What’s the spring show?
NG: All I can say is that we will be doing a musical… quite possibly a very popular 50’s-style musical.

This semester you’re doing the Heidi Chronicles. Why did you pick that play?
NG: It’s always been on my list of shows that I’ve wanted to do, but I’ve never directed it. The theatre space dictates so much, and I think sometimes the limitation of space can breed creativity and make it better. Even though the name isn’t necessarily flashy, it has been on Broadway recently (2015). It’s a great play. The characters are witty and intelligent, and it has a good message. My biggest hesitation about directing it was that I’m a man. I think that, ideally, it should be directed by a woman, because so much of it is about the Women’s Rights Movement, and Heidi’s feminism or search for equality – her journey. I also wanted to make sure that I was allowed to put it on here, because of some of the profanity. I ran it by Dr. Vogt, and also the dean, who just told me to put a warning on the advertising. I’m not looking to offend people; but I would say I look to challenge people to open their minds, so I don’t shy away from profanity when it’s part of the language of the culture in the play.

A lot of people showed interest in the program when we had the ice cream social. How do you think someone who is not studying theatre, maybe not even studying any form of art, could benefit from our theatre program?
NG: There are a lot of things the business world looks for that theatre does very well: working as a team, meeting deadlines, communicating effectively. When I was at U of A, I made contact with a law professor and he asked me to teach acting classes at the law school every year; so, a lot of the skills carry over. If someone’s reading this article now, then they’ve likely got some sort of desire in them, so I think that they should give it a try. You don’t ever want to go through life and question, “Should I have done it?” In many cases, you don’t regret the things you did as much as you regret the things that you didn’t do.


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Meet Wesleyan’s New Theater Program Director