In the summer of 1989, Gary Smith, Mary Adams-Smith, Pat Lemay, D.D. Delaney, Jala Magik, and Erma Stauffer each deposited $5 into a bank account, forming an “Executive Artistic Ensemble,” or EAE, with an opening balance of $30. In terms of geography and experience, these six came from different places. As an EAE, they were one group of intuitive artists venturing by consensus into the unfamiliar rationality of the non-profit world, at once steadied and challenged by the shared artistic achievement of their mission and the new roles that each of them took on: marketer, box office clerk, by-laws author, accountant, technical director, stage manager.
Recognized as a local institution in permanent renaissance, Theater of the Seventh Sister still draws Lancaster audiences away from the comfort zone of mere entertainment and toward the big questions. The road less traveled has not always lent itself to predictability or permanency—as evidenced by TSS’s transitory history—but it guarantees the discovery of new perspectives that transcend spatial limits. TSS founders Gary Smith and Mary Adams-Smith know this as they continue to serve on the board from their new home in Vermont, while incoming artistic director Cynthia Charles leads a wholly new, yet similarly diverse, Executive Artistic Ensemble.
Ever since she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from West Virginia University, Cynthia Charles has maintained a reputation as one of the most respected performers in Lancaster County, taking on demanding roles in productions at the Fulton, Ephrata Performing Arts Center, Rainbow Comedy Playhouse, Creative Works of Lancaster and Theater of the Seventh Sister. In Kristin Wolanin, Barry Fritz, Brian McCreary, and Jeremiah Miller, Charles has pieced together an Executive Artistic Ensemble whose unity of purpose has no parallel in the region and that stays true to Seventh Sister’s founding vision. Like the original EAE, this one too is rich in diversity of perspective and of experience.
Kristin Wolanin has been a professional actor, director and theatre arts teacher for more than 15 years. She is a graduate of DeSales University and earned her MFA in theatre performance from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She has performed at numerous regional theatres as well as in voiceovers, commercials and industrial films. Wolanin spent a decade teaching in Orlando, Florida and now heads the theatre department at Lancaster Country Day School.
Barry Fritz holds a BFA in theatre from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He has been a technical director, teacher, scenic and lighting designer, and stagehand. His work has adorned the stages of Elizabethtown College, Actors Company of Pennsylvania, Ephrata Playhouse, and the Fulton. He has served as the scenic and lighting designer on sixteen productions at TSS—most recently, A Christmas Carol—and for half-a-dozen of the most celebrated operas, including last year’s Hansel & Gretel at Opera Lancaster.
Jeremiah Miller grew up on the Lancaster stage, appearing at the Fulton, Ephrata Performing Arts Center, and Theater of the Seventh Sister. He lived in New York City for a decade, during which time he played major roles at such venues as Lincoln Center and Playwrights Horizons, and on such television shows as Law & Order. Upon earning a Communications degree, he returned to Lancaster where he works as the Coordinator of Alumni Affairs at J.P. McCaskey High School, his alma mater.
Brian McCreary graduated first in his class at Temple University School of Communication & Theater. He served as Assistant Stage Manager for the new musical Four Little Pages, in conjunction with the National Park Service and Franklin Roberts Productions. Brian has been active in the professional and community theater of his native Lancaster County for many years, working at the Dutch Apple, EPAC, Sight & Sound, and Theater of the Seventh Sister.
The Barbara Barden Dance Series will launch TSS’s 26th season on Saturday, November 21 at 7:30 pm and on Sunday, November 22 at 2:30 pm in the Steinman Theater at the Lancaster Country Day School. The main stage productions chosen by the EAE will include Frank McCourt’s The Irish and How They Got That Way. The Irish and How They Got That Way will open in March with a venue yet to be determined. TSS’s Sister Arts Series includes the Barbara Barden Dance Series in November, a staged reading of John Resheter’s The Patriarch in February, and in April, Spoken Word Play 14 co-directed by Marie Winger and Daina Savage and My Electric Life written by Paul Hood and directed by Nelly Torres.
The 2015-2016 season will be known as “Three-Quarters Irish,” reflecting the heritage of EAE members, as well as the season’s ratio of influence. Regardless of setting, Theater of the Seventh Sister still understands that there are only a couple of basic stories. They culminate in defeat or triumph, but the prerequisite struggle is what makes them worthy. No less than the founders, Cynthia, Barry, Kristin, Jeremiah, and Brian shirk the comfort zone and commit their gaze in a new direction. The season is “Three-Quarters Irish”, and like Gary, Mary, Pat, D.D., Jala and Erma before them, each member of the new Executive Artistic Ensemble is %100 in.