Loud and clear

Center Stage Productions is branching out in South County
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 29, 2008

MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: Maitland at the Courthouse Center For the Arts.

"The joy of excess," by Bill Rodriguez
Things certainly changed dramatically at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston when Russ Maitland signed on last December as executive director. The priorities had been renovation and the consequent fundraising from the time that the state had given the decommissioned Washington County Courthouse to an arts group in 1989. Now, finally, programming could be the main concern.

Theater and finance were Maitland’s dual academic trainings, with extensive background in both, so he wasn’t going to be just an arts administrator, he was also going to give them a producer and director. In only a month, he assembled a full year’s schedule, and Center Stage was born.

“I went crazy trying to pull things together and make things work,” he says, sitting over a cappuccino in his office. “The facility lends itself to becoming a full year-round production organization because it’s air-conditioned and heated. So that’s what I decided to do, a full subscription program.”

This year started with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in April and will continue with Cabaret in November and Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story in December.

“I don’t want to do the old Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals every time,”  Maitland says. “I don’t want to do things that have been done every year.

“I’m doing a lot of things that are a little bit on the edge. Sweeney Todd is coming in November [2009],” he says. “We actually are putting together an opera company here that will be doing two operettas: Little Red Riding Hood and Amahl and the Night Visitors. But then the opera company will also be involved with the Sweeney Todd production.”

Speaking of edgy, he has also scheduled the offbeat off-Broadway musical Violet, about a journey by a disfigured young woman. For fun that’s a little more layered than Nunsense, there will be Dan Goggin’s Nunsense Ah-Men, a musical comedy with an all-male cast. And capping off next year, Center Stage will again be doing something family-oriented for the holiday season: Wonderful Life, which Maitland wrote. It’s an adaptation of the Frank Capra film classic It’s a Wonderful Life. He hopes that it will be become an annual family tradition with theatergoers, like Trinity Repertory Company’s A Christmas Carol.

Maitland, 47, brings a lot to the South County theater. He has been performing since age 8, both professionally and in school and community theater in Morris County, New Jersey, where he grew up. He has traveled in the national tours of Mack and Mabel and Pippin; he has performed off-Broadway and in several East Coast regional theaters, and has staged numerous productions. Maitland has also been in several independent films.

His mother is French and a Sousa, as in John Philip Sousa of marching band fame. She wasn’t a stage mother, pushing her children into theater, but “she encouraged performance big-time.” At 16 and 17, he in-terned at the Joffrey Ballet, when it was in New York. But he kept coming back to the stage.

The arts, however, pay notoriously badly.

“What was more important, living or art?” he says he had to ask himself. “That was a very hard choice for me to make.”

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