If you sat in the right spot at Center Stage's recently concluded production of Charles Ludlam's "The Mystery of Irma Vep," you might have noticed a portrait of a knight in armor hanging in the little hallway on the far left of the set of the musty English manor.
Looking more closely, you could have caught a few anachronistic details: The crest of Yale University was painted in one corner; the school mascot, a bulldog, was painted in another; and the subject of the portrait was wearing glasses.
For that matter, the subject bore an uncanny resemblance to Stan Wojewodski Jr., for whom the production marked his directorial swan song as artistic director of Center Stage, a post he has held since 1977. Tomorrow he begins his official duties in the highly prestigious dual roles of dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre.
For almost as long as Center Stage has been on Calvert Street, Mr. Wojewodski (pronounced Voya-VUDski) has shaped its artistic policy. The portrait on the set of "Irma Vep" was intended as a joke, but it probably wouldn't be too far from the truth to say that, artistically, he has been the theater's knight in shining armor. Or, in the words of Yale University president Benno C. Schmidt Jr., "He took a good regional theater and made it one of the very best in the country."
So perhaps it is not surprising that when Yale presented him with what most people would have considered an offer he couldn't refuse, the 42-year-old artistic director was torn. "I could have refused it, actually," he admitted during an interview the morning after the final performance of "Irma Vep." "It was a very difficult decision. It was tough."
After all, it's only been six months since the realization of one of Mr. Wojewodski's dreams for Center Stage -- the opening of the second performing space, the state-of-the art, flexible-seating Head Theater. As Wil Love, one of the co-stars of "Irma Vep," recalls, "He told me a year ago, 'When that new space opens, they'll never get me out of it.' "
Hearing this now, Mr. Wojewodski laughs, but it is a laugh tinged with some genuine regret. Still, the Head Theater remains a tangible part of his legacy at Center Stage -- even if he won't be here to create a body of work in it.
Another of his dreams, however, did not reach fruition. When he was appointed artistic director, among his goals was the development of a conservatory for training actors and technical personnel, possibly in cooperation with a local university.
The move to Yale, he acknowledges, can be seen as the personal fulfillment of that goal. "I've long believed that the ideal situation would be the creation of a first-rate theater, working closely with a first-rate training program," he says. "Yale is
unique in its achievements and potential in that regard." And indeed, its alumni roster reads like a who's who of stage and screen, including actresses Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver, playwrights Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang, and a slew of award-winning theatrical designers.
Although Mr. Wojewodski doesn't officially become Dean Wojewodski until tomorrow, he has already logged an impressive number of international miles for the school, proving its reputation extends well beyond these shores. Last month he visited the Soviet Union to work on an exchange with the Moscow Art Theater. Three weeks later he attended a conference in Siena, Italy, in preparation for a 1992 international playwriting festival.
Trying on the hat of artistic director of Yale Rep, he selected the theater's 1991-1992 season, which bears several similarities to what we've come to expect at Center Stage. The opening production is a newly revised version of Eric Overmyer's "On the Verge or the Geography of Yearning," which premiered here in 1985 and became the most produced new play on the regional circuit the following season. Another play in the Yale Rep lineup, "My Children! My Africa!", by Athol Fugard, will be part of the coming Center Stage season as well.
The selection of "On the Verge" offers at least a temporary answer to the question of what effect Mr. Wojewodski's departure will have on Center Stage's relationship with Mr. Overmyer, five of whose seven scripts have been produced here, three of them world premieres.
What's more, Mr. Wojewodski has appointed him to teach playwriting part time at Yale. "I'm very happy to maintain my connection with [Mr. Wojewodski]," says Mr. Overmyer, who has described Center Stage as his artistic home. "But I'm very fond of Baltimore, and I hope that that's not all over."
Mr. Wojewodski will also be teaching at Yale this year. In addition to the dean's responsibility for overseeing course work for the three-year graduate program, he'll be teaching a second-year directing class focusing on verse plays, as well as the second semester of third-year acting.
If that sounds complicated, consider that the drama school has eight divisions -- all exclusively graduate -- including dramaturgy and theater administration, as well as such areas as acting, directing and playwriting. (It takes Mr. Wojewodski a minute to list them all; he's obviously still getting this down.)
Although the student body of nearly 200 sounds large, the acting program alone received 850 applications for the coming year, out of which only 16 were accepted. The students stage more than 50 productions a year; these are completely separate from the seven-play season of Yale Rep, which, though university-affiliated, is a fully professional regional theater. "It's an incredibly busy schedule, incredibly busy schedule," Mr. Wojewodski says, as if saying it twice helps it sink in.
Then there is the administrative side of the job. At Center Stage, most of the those responsibilities are handled by the theater's longtime managing director, Peter W. Culman. Nonetheless, Mr. Wojewodski's fiscal responsibility is one of the qualities lauded by the managing director. "Stan understood money and recognized that without it we couldn't do anything, and with it, we could do everything," says Mr. Culman, whose close relationship with the artistic director often led them to be described as a team.
At Yale, Lloyd Richards, the outgoing dean and artistic director, describes his duties as "administrative to a very great extent." However, Mr. Wojewodski is confident that the breakdown of responsibilities will be similar to that at Center Stage. Yale Rep also has a managing director, and at the drama school, he explains, the administration is principally the domain of the associate dean. At least in theory, this will afford Mr. Wojewodski the time to direct two of the Yale Rep offerings -- "On the Verge" and Christopher Marlowe's "Edward the Second."
During his 16 years at Center Stage -- he was hired in 1975 to assist the artistic director and run the Young People's Theater -- Mr. Wojewodski directed 48 productions, beginning with Harold Pinter's "Old Times" in 1976.
Trying to pick a personal favorite, he says, "is a more difficult question than you might think because there are things that I know have meant a great deal to people, and yet as an artist, you're always curious about how it might have been better."
When pressed, he mentions Mr. Overmyer's "The Heliotrope Bouquet of Scott Joplin & Louis Chauvin," which he'll be directing again at California's La Jolla Playhouse this summer; Darrah Cloud and Kim D. Sherman's music theater piece, "O Pioneers!"; Vaclav Havel's "The Increased Difficulty of Concentration"; and Ibsen's "The Lady from the Sea." But he is quick to add, "There are other plays that I think are just magnificent plays that I would like to do again that didn't meet with success, things like 'Danton's Death,' which I loved, and 'An Enemy of the People,' which . . . I just didn't manage to nail down somehow."
Of course, Mr. Wojewodski's tenure as artistic director has included achievements other than individual productions. Among those would be the creation of the associate artist program, through which the theater has established relationships with, among others, Mr. Overmyer, set designer Hugh Landwehr, and director Irene Lewis, currently serving as Center Stage's acting artistic director.
He is also proud of the relationship the theater has established with its audience. "Our seasons are not littered with middlebrow gobblygook that passes itself off as significant writing," he says. Citing Mr. Culman and the board of trustees, he adds, "We've resisted the idea of fund-raising at the box office."
At least on the surface, nothing in Mr. Wojewodski's background would appear to have suggested a theatrical career, although that path was also chosen by his younger brother, Robert, a free-lance costume designer who has worked repeatedly at Center Stage. Born 13 months apart in Scranton, Pa., the sons of a Department of Defense employee, they first exhibited their theatrical tendencies in backyard productions directed by Stan and designed by Robert.
"It all started just around the house. Our first cousins were on the same block, and we were all in it together. It's interesting that we ended up continuing," says the younger Wojewodski.
However, it wasn't until he attended the Jesuit-run University of Scranton -- which recently honored him as a distinguished alumnus -- that Stan seriously considered the theater as a career. After serving as president of the dramatic society (where he was succeeded by his kid brother), he earned a master's degree in directing from the Catholic University of America in Washington and spent the next two years touring with the university's National Players.
Then he learned of an opportunity to work at Center Stage, where he seems to have done a little of everything, including acting; he made his last professional appearance in the 1976 production of "The Cherry Orchard." Coincidentally, that production marked the departure of artistic director Jacques Cartier; his successor was 29-year-old Mr. Wojewodski, one of the youngest regional theater artistic directors in the country at the time.
Looking back now, Mr. Wojewodski seems somewhat surprised at the direction his life has taken. A few weeks ago, he recalls, he was attending a dinner party and one of the guests asked him when he decided to become an artistic director. "It's really hard to say that I ever did," he says.