2018-09-01 / Spotlight

Director's Cut

with Penn State School of Theatre director Rick Lombardo

Incoming Penn State School of Theatre director Rick Lombardo comes to State College by way of New York, Boston, San Jose and Atlanta. So what’s he doing here?

“It was a pretty easy decision because Penn State has one of the top schools of theater in the country,” he says. “The opportunity to have the chance to come in and lead it — it’s a great honor.”

Lombardo has worked as artistic director for various community repertory theatres, written an award-winning musical The Snow Queen: A New Musical, and taught at the collegiate level. Now, he’ll bring all that experience to what is really a dual role as the leader of the School of Theatre. His big plans?

Look and listen.

“I’ve gone through enough leadership transitions now to know that it takes at least a year to really try to understand the culture of a particular organization,” he says. “And I’m very big about the notion of shared governance and having conversations with lots of folks in the school — faculty, students and staff — to see what the future vision could be.”

Whatever the specifics of that vision, Lombardo knows it involves both Penn State students and staff and State College community members engaged on multiple levels.

“I spent 20 years of my career leading nonprofit regional theaters that were integral to the community,” he says, “and if it wasn’t for the community support and our connection to the community, they wouldn’t exist. Every play that we produced was not to fulfill the artistic needs of the artists involved; it was to create a vehicle where we could all come in as a community and share a story and engage in some debate. Theater at its best, I think, is an ongoing conversation about who we are and why we are.”

TOP BILLING “I think it’s pretty well known that our musical theater program has been ranked top five in the country — if there’s one thing that the Penn State School of Theatre is known for right now it’s the excellence of the musical theater program. And that’s great. But I think that we have a lot of programs that are equally excellent. One thing I’m going to work on in my role as director is to try to both elevate those programs and to do all we can to make them also as nationally recognized as the musical theater program.”

FUTURE STAGE “The thing that I know for certain is that theater in 2040, 2045 is going to look very different than theater does right now. Our world is changing at a rate that is growing exponentially primarily because of devices and screens and instant access to information and communications. And it is changing the way we interact with each other as humans. Live theater has to ask itself some very serious questions at this moment: Given the prevalence of our screen addiction and our desire to be connected, what does it mean for us to come into a space together with other actual physical bodies and watch a live, breathing actor in real time? What are the ancient aspects of what we do that are actually sort of wired into our DNA as humans?”

AUDIENCE EXPANSION “My hope is that what technology might enable theater to do is be less elitist. I love Hamilton, but if you want to see Hamilton that automatically places you in a certain socioeconomic class to be able to access that. Yet there are millions and millions of Americans that should be accessing that art, who that art could speak to so powerfully.”

STORYTELLER “I’m kind of a Shakespeare guy. I think all theater in the English language, we owe our debt to this one brilliant career that wasn’t really that long. He didn’t just write great plays; he created all sorts of techniques that we take for granted now. But one thing about my career as an artist is that I’ve tried to defy genre. I just like great stories, and I think that we can tell great stories in a lot of different forms. What is the essential idea in this story that’s going to ask the audience to consider some deeply provocative and cogent question about what it means to be alive?”

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