By Chris Hanna
The coming theatre season marks a transition point in my life. After serving Virginia Stage as its Artistic Director over the past dozen years, my institutional focus now returns to Old Dominion, where I have served on faculty for over two decades. Local historians may recall that I actually began my career here in Hampton Roads back in the 1980s, staging productions in concert for Virginia Stage and Old Dominion, both emerging institutions at the time. As I look around today, I’m happy to say we’ve all three come a long way.
The distinction between the professional and academic theatre has always seemed an illusion to me. Their separate missions contrast as sharply as does the architectures of the Wells and Goode Theatres, but such differences are deceptive. Great theatre occurs at the intersection of inquiry and craft; organizational charter and architectural structure are only backdrop landscapes when that spark ignites.
It is popularly known that professional theatre began in the 4th Century BC during the Greek Classical Age, with the masterpiece dramas of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. What is less known is that those works became lost to the world through the confusion of the Dark Ages. It was only when Oxford University scholars rediscovered the texts and transcribed them for academic performances that they were reintroduced into the world repertory. Centuries later, when America’s universities had become exhausted under the weight of European classicism, the stunning dramas of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller appeared on the Broadway stage, creating a new direction for theatre study that continues today.
I consider it providential that the renovation of the Wells Theatre has placed the premiere of I Sing the Rising Sea onstage at the Goode Theatre. If Hampton Roads can truly become a commanding voice in the world climate change conversation, that will only happen through the enlightened participation of our region’s greatest minds and imaginations, both professional and academic. As the urgency of ocean level rise demands unprecedented cooperation among our institutions, the collaboration between Virginia Stage and Old Dominion to make this production possible will someday appear to have been as prescient as society demands all art to be. Regardless of whether we credit the professional or academic movements for this new momentum, it is thrilling for me to be surrounded by both.