Warner isn't dead. Today is his 57th birthday, and it must be a strange and bittersweet one for him.
|Warner Crocker, Birthday Boy|
Only a few weeks ago, he announced his resignation from his position as Artistic Director of Wayside Theatre in Middletown, VA. He ran the theatre for about 15 years, which, I'm told, is about twice as long as the average artistic director runs the average regional theatre. But neither Warner nor Wayside are average.
|Warner had a strong tradition of hiring DC-area actors; both Tom Simpson and myself were imported for Man of La Mancha. Out of town talent became more and more problematic for the theatre as funding dried up, and housing became an issue.|
I am not, I assure you, privy to the inner workings of a regional theatre, but I've been around long enough to see that Wayside Theatre had a lot of challenges to its existence.
Its location, about 90 or so miles from Washington, DC, may lead one to assume it's a bedroom (ie: commuter) community, and indeed, there are some residents in the area who are crazy enough to make the long drive to and from DC every day. But mostly, the residents who are lucky enough to have Wayside in their midst would be considered rural. Though Wayside Theatre is over 50 years old, it sits in a community for whom theatre-going is not a routine part of life.
I know Warner and his staff struggled mightily throughout the years to instill a sense of regional pride in their theatre, as well as a recognition that Wayside was an important asset to the community which needed to be encouraged, financially as well as creatively. This was an uphill battle.
My first appearance at Wayside Theatre was in Agatha Christie's Black Coffee, a whodunit which is known primarily as the first onstage appearance of her famous Dutch detective, Hercule Poirot.
|Warner's trust and respect toward actors was|
always evident. He chose to work repeatedly
with actors of talent who also had spirits of
generosity, kindness, and fun. Jim Fleming
was one of Warner's regulars.
There wasn't anything substantially wrong with it, I just never connected with the character. I came away from the show with many, many great personal memories of the experience, but with the sour taste which comes from an unsatisfactory performance.
It was many years before I returned to Wayside.
|Sound designer Steve was instrumental (pun alert!)|
in creating the niche into which most Wayside
musicals fell, where actors played the music.
My next role, Sancho Panza in the classic musical Man of La Mancha, was more successful. Though once again cast against type, I had lots of help from director Warner and musical guru Steve Przybylski(I wrote about this experience in several entries at the time, including this tribute to Steve and the entire cast).
Only a few years went by before I was asked back to Wayside, to play a role for which I was perfectly suited. The Nerd was the kind of comedy very accessible to a wide range of audiences, and I had a ball with the play and the role.
|As the sardonic neighbor with an agenda, The Nerd provided|
me with a great role. It was to be Wayside's final production
as an Equity house to date.
It was during this period, though, that I began to realize the huge financial challenges which Warner faced every day of his career at Wayside Theatre. His board of directors seemed split over how to help the theatre continue to survive and grow.
A capital campaign to expand the theatre's space only got far enough to pay for some essential upgrades to the existing theatre (during my first show there, it was necessary to actually go outside the building to cross from backstage right to left). Wayside's property includes an empty lot behind the theatre which Warner hoped to build on, to add rehearsal/shop/office space and perhaps a black box to house their thriving education wing. No such luck.
|It might be said that some board members were pretty blind to the realities of keeping a theatre alive.|
Warner, to his credit, has always been a big supporter of the actors union, and continued to employ AEA members when he could, using the Guest Artist contract, but he was forced to severely downsize his staff, which was already skeletal to my eyes.
|My birthday buddy Malia was Wayside's Production Stage Manager for many years. Once the theatre went non-Equity, she had to move on. Like so many other Wayside folks, she landed on her feet and now works in the mid-West.|
I guess that chapter will be without the theatre's major engine. I have no inside info on why Warner tendered his resignation earlier this month.
|Thomasin Savaiano: Wayside's leading teacher,|
actress, cheerleader, bottle washer, and
According to the local papers, the board intends to continue with the season which Warner selected, hiring independent directors for each show, but refraining from hiring a new artistic director, at least for now. How the hell that's going to work is beyond my comprehension, as I've been in that tiny second floor loft where Wayside Theatre's administrative offices are cramped. Warner and Thomasin, with the help of one or two others, ran all the administrative aspects of the theatre. Without them, I wonder how the day-to-day operations will continue.
|To my knowledge, Warner was never granted the title|
"Producing Artistic Director," but that's what he was. He
was also the Managing Director, but again, without the
Happy Birthday, Warner.
Addendum: on 8/8/13, a few weeks after I wrote the above entry, the Board of Directors of Wayside Theatre announced its immediate closing. Its 52 year history is now that: history.