Michael Ross kicks off our guest speaker series

June 15, 2015

Theatre Projects is launching a guest speaker series that will invite a wide range of accomplished performing arts professionals to address the Theatre Projects’ team and engage with us in conversations about the trajectory of the performing arts and the facilities they come to life in.

"We’re always looking for new ways to keep the 'theatre’ in Theatre Projects," explains Chad Morrison, business director for Theatre Projects’ Connecticut studio. "Everyone here comes from the theatre, so this program is a way to remind us of why we design and build these spaces that we love so much. In today’s industry, we have to understand the challenges facing performing arts facilities and keep a pulse on the state of modern theatre, so we can anticipate and react swiftly to changes in the industry. It helps us better understand the aspirations of our clients and hurdles they face."

The first event in the upstart speaker series was held on Monday, June 1, when Michael Ross, managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse stopped by our South Norwalk office.

Michael’s extensive (and impressive!) resume includes roles such as managing director of CENTERSTAGE (Baltimore, Maryland), producer and general manager of Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, Connecticut), and fundraiser and strategic planner for theatres nationwide including the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, SITI Company, Wilma Theater, Trinity Repertory Company, and Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Few people could offer such a well-cultivated perspective on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the world of the performing arts. And few people know quite as well what it takes to make extraordinary performances.

During an engaging hour-long talk, Michael touched on a number of lessons learned, obstacles faced, and some illuminating stories from his 20-plus years in the theatre. The interaction between the performers and audience and the cohesion between audience members, Michael said, is a critical element in creating dynamic and memorable performances.

Michael and the Theatre Projects team talked about strategies, benefits, and the practical challenges of transforming a theatre into a community gathering space. The Westport Playhouse, Michael said, has been making a similar push of late, with events like wine and cheese nights, family nights, and a young professionals get-together. By hosting post-show discussions, lectures, parties, and other events, and inviting audiences to participate at a deeper level, a theatre can hope to cement a place as an indispensable part of a community.

Perhaps the best reminder about working in theatre came when Michael joined us for a lunch at the local beach, and we discovered there were no tables at the pavilion we’d rented, not to mention it was sopping wet. In the typical no-panic, problem-solving spirit that comes ingrained in those in the theatre, Michael said, "Want to come to the Playhouse and use our barn?" Yes, yes we did. And within the next half hour, we were set up and enjoying our lunch and an impromptu tour of the historic Westport Country Playhouse given by the charming Annie Keefe, The Westport Country Playhouse’s associate artist.

For more information about Michael Ross and the Wesport Country Playhouse, visit their website at westportcountryplayhouse.org

Theatre Projects' speaker series invites accomplished performing arts professionals to share their insights, history, and philosophy with our team, engaging in a back-and-forth conversation to better understand the challenges artists face, the facilities they operate in, and the trajectory of the performing arts.

Michael Ross kicks off our guest speaker series
Credit: Lora Karam Photography