By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
An encore seems inconceivable since Anthony M. Stockard made history last year as the new director of the Norfolk State University Theatre.
Still, Stockard is back at his fast-paced drawing board anticipating another round of applause. There he is not only putting the finishing touches on an ambitious 2015-16 season that will include a total of four productions (two plays and two musicals). He also plans to recruit more theatre majors since the number increased last year from 11 to about 40 students. Oh yes, NSU’s Homecoming will include an encore presentation of last year’s wildly popular musical tribute to Whitney Houston that played to sold-out audiences.
“We are pulling no punches this year,” said Stockard, estimating he puts in about 70 hours a week as a theatre professor, producer, director, and publicist.
“Last year I could not have imagined that so much would happen,” said Stockard, a native of Toledo, Ohio who holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Alabama State University and a master’s of fine arts in theatre from Brandeis University in Boston. He has performed in New York in commercials and theatre.
“The audiences loved the Whitney show and that is why we are doing an encore during NSU’s Homecoming,” he said. “Our audience for the Whitney Tribute tripled in size from our first to our final show. We had 350 seats for the first performance compared to 1500 seats for the encore presentation. Some came back to see the same show two-to-three-days in a row.”
The Whitney encore performance will be presented Sunday, Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. in the 1,547-seat Douglas L. Wilder Center.
This means another round of applause is likely. That is, more cheers are likely as NSU launches its 2015-16 theatre season on Sept. 3-6 with the Brothers Size, a play that follows the recently paroled Oshoosi Size who seeks to jump start his life in the Louisiana bayou.
The second production is a one-night-only encore performance of last year’s wildly popular musical tribute to Whitney Houston. The encore performance kicks-off NSU’s 2015 homecoming activities on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 5 p.m.
Following up Whitney is Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity, Nov. 27-29. The fourth production is titled No Child. This off-Broadway hit comedy will be presented Feb. 25-27. No Child explores America’s public school system. Five actors transform into 15 characters ranging from students, teachers, parents and the custodial staff!
Black theatre is obviously on a roll. Or has Norfolk State’s theatre department tapped into a new market? “Absolutely, without question,” Stockard said. “There are over a half million people of color in this area. And no one in the region is producing theatre at the level we are producing it.”
“Some do occasional productions but we are at the epicenter,” Stockard said.
But producing entertainment for an untapped market has produced other benefits. “For example, we are growing academically as well,” Stockard said, explaining that the increased number of theatre majors caused the number of faculty to increase from two to three.
Meanwhile, a recent Norfolk State grad walked away with $750,000 in scholarships, enrolled in Temple University, and obtained $18,000 for living expenses after Stockard took him to grad school auditions in New York. And another Norfolk State theatre student just completed a paid internship with Disney in Florida.
Finally, the department will reach out to the community during the holiday season. Black Nativity has 10 starring roles, a huge choir, and praise dancers. “We will also need costume designers, seamstresses, and other staff,” Stockard said. “We don’t have a cap.”
“It will be huge,” he said. “Open-call auditions will run Sept. 9-10 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s going to take the whole community to pull this off.”
Tickets to each production are on sale now and range from $10-$30 depending on whether it is a play or musical, and if you catch the early bird discount. For more information about the shows, group rates and other ticket information, call (757) 823-9009, extension #5 or visit www.nsutheatre.com.