Joy Zinoman exits Studio Theatre with a sense of the direction she's taken

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuesday was Joy Zinoman's last day as Studio Theatre's founding artistic director. The company's incoming leader, David Muse, has been rehearsing "Circle Mirror Transformation" in the afternoons and holding transitional meetings with Zinoman and her staff each morning.

After 35 years at Studio's helm, Zinoman says, in her characteristically emphatic conversational style (while also paraphrasing T.S. Eliot), that the prospect of leaving is "freeing in a way that I can't even describe. . . . Thirty-five years is a very long time, and to feel the responsibility of it being shared and also personally not having to measure out my life in coffee spoons -- the thought of freedom is really delicious to me."

She added, "On the other hand, my relationships with people there are also very deep, so that's extremely difficult to figure out how we separate."

Zinoman has been feted at multiple parties, held by staff, board members, actors and others. On Friday it was a do at the British ambassador's residence to honor her for, among other things, the many British plays she's done at Studio. And there have been gifts. The staff gave her a gold watch with a twist: The timepiece rests on a gold facsimile of the theater's logo and is permanently set at 8:08 -- Studio's traditional curtain time.

Asked what her -- and Studio's -- contributions have been to Washington theater, Zinoman notes that Studio was "very instrumental in the unionization of Washington" -- meaning more Equity actors working and living here instead of heading to New York. Second, she says, "I think performance has been a hallmark -- the level, the quality of performance." She also cites the quality of design at Studio by her longtime collaborators, scenic designer (and the designer of Studio itself) Russell Metheny, costume designer Helen Q. Huang, sound designer Gil Thompson and lighting designer Michael Giannitti.

Another key ingredient, says Zinoman, is the intimacy of Studio's four performance spaces of 250 seats and fewer. "We have 50,000 square feet. We could have built a theater any size we want . . . but we chose to do that work in intimate spaces."

Finally, she maintains, "I had the great good fortune of an audience that was receptive and wanted to see the kind of work that we wanted to do."

To ease her transition into civilian life, Zinoman and her husband, Murray, have planned a four-month sojourn in Italy and other parts of Europe. They'll return in January. Zinoman will continue to teach at Studio's conservatory and adds that she's already had directing offers elsewhere around town.

Local 'Sound' makers

Ten area high-schoolers into musical theater are breathing the rarefied air of a professional show through Sept. 5, as part of the ensemble in "The Sound of Music" at Wolf Trap. The production comes from Atlanta's Theater of the Stars.

That same company partnered with Wolf Trap two years ago to use local teens for ensemble roles in "Les Misérables," and it worked out so well that when the same thing was suggested for "The Sound of Music," Wolf Trap's vice president of programming, Ann McKee, jumped at the chance. Auditions were held July 24. McKee says more than 100 kids tried out.

"Backstage" spoke to four who made the cut.

Sixteen-year-old Nick Stone of McLean, a junior at McLean High School, says his parents have long been involved in communty theater and they got him into it, too. "I was in 'The Sound of Music.' It was like my first community theater show. I was, I think, in third grade and I did it at St. Mark's Players in D.C. I was an altar boy. . . . It turned me on to the whole theater [thing]," says Nick.

Ariana Kruszewski of Oak Hill, 16, attends South Lakes High School in Reston. She and her brother "come from pretty heavy dance backgrounds," and she's been in dance competitions. Right now, she's also in rehearsals for "Wonderful Town" with Reston Community Players and has attended Arena Stage's musical theater training program.

Paul Alan Hogan of Vienna is 15 and a sophomore at James Madison High School. He likes to take pop songs, such as Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," and arrange them in folk style on various instruments. He studies drama at school and takes more classes at the Fairfax school district's Institute for the Arts. "I would love to be an actor or a musician," says Paul, but "realistically, maybe not gonna happen, but I would love to."

McKensey Struzik from Ashburn is 15 and will be at Briar Woods High School this fall. She has worked in community and youth theater. Her mom found out about the Wolf Trap auditions at the very last minute. "It was a big rush," recalls McKensey. Such a rush that she didn't have time to get nervous -- "I didn't even think about it."

The other six area teens in Wolf Trap's "Sound of Music" ensemble are Meg Boyle and Kendall Dunn, both from Ashburn, Maureen Fitzpatrick from Potomac, Michelle Huey from Bethesda, Rachel Meloan from Gaithersburg and Lilian Roth from Vienna.

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