In a junior high school speech class, all his classmates voted to do a play. Not John Wolf. He was the lone dissenter – he voted to do a debate. He found himself in his first play: “Griselda the Governess.”
It’s ironic, he notes. “Out of those 28 kids, I’m the only one in theatre,” he reflects. “I did that play. I just kept doing it.”
Along the way, Wolf had a professional internship at Juilliard. And a number of New York City credits, including at Lincoln Center, in association with the Equity Library Theatre. He did scenery and lighting for their original play “Winterville.”
A professor of theatre at UNCG, a lot of students know him for managing the production program – “everything in day-to-day operations,” he explains.
At Triad Stage, the professional regional theatre in downtown Greensboro, he’s known for lighting. He’s the resident lighting designer.
He has been lighting the productions since the first year, 2000. “I did two shows the first season.”
Each summer, the UNCG Theatre Department and Triad Stage collaborate. It’s called Theatre 232. And it gives more than two dozen UNCG theatre students experience in a professional environment. Eight are actors in the mainstage production, “Masquerade.” Nine theatre faculty and staff are involved as well.
“A Bomb-itty of Errors,” a comedy in the upstairs cabaret space, will feature three second-year designing graduate students: Derrick Vanmeter (scenery), Bruce Young (costumes) and Matt Sale (lighting/sound). The other of the four second-year students is assistant lighting director for “Masquarade,” a farce on the main stage.
Wolf is the “Masquerade” lighting director. Alex Ginder is the assistant lighting director. During tech rehearsal two days before previews began in front of audiences, they sat side by side in front of a laptop and two monitors. On the table were headphones, microphones, cables, various papers and plenty of notes.
The stage manager calls a five minute break. The assistant stage manager, rising senior Samantha Honeycutt, steps over to speaks with Alex.
Alex explains he has been coming to plays since he was three – his parents were involved in theatre. By high school, he was running sound boards and light boards. He wanted to be a computer games designer – and he notes the similarity. After he graduates, he aspires to ultimately teach.
A few days before the first preview, and he said the comedy “continues to develop.”
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, adding that it’s meant long nights too. That’s theatre. “It’s great in the heat of summer to be in a theatre laughing.”
Maximizing laughs entails “serious discussion,” he explains. “Someone may say ‘Oh, that would be funny…” That may mean adding props, changing lighting or cues, what have you. “But would it be funnier if….”
In the scene for this hour, characters and topiary make a comical entrance, as a hip-hop French Baroque beat sets the mood. Wolf shakes his head with the rhythm.
Director Preston Lane, an adjunct UNCG faculty member, hops down the aisle with an idea. “What happens if you get caught up in the topiary?” he suggests to an actress. She tries that out – and draws laughs. “It’s funny that you get a little confused,” Lane says.
Wolf and Alex confer from time to time. Alex checks the Cabaret space for a piece of equipment they may need. When he returns, Wolf points to different areas above the seats and stage, noting where they can add or adjust lighting.
Rehearsals are tightly managed; but at the same time there’s a collegial atmosphere. In the low light, about a dozen monitors glow, from various parts of the audience section. The props master, scenic designer, sound designer, lighting designer, stage manager, director, master electrician, production designer, actors – everyone is working toward one goal.
For the students, networking is a huge plus. They work with people who are not classmates, Wolf explains. You want to get to know a wide number of people. “It’s as much who you know as what you know,” Wolf says, to gain success in the theatre world.
He explains that the academic environment is quite safe to be creative in. A professional one, not so much. Their experience this summer at Triad Stage will let them “see how it works, at the professional level.”
Triad Stage is a big part of their UNCG education. “Everyone is there as a professional – or a student learning to be a professional.”
The three Theatre 232 productions are:
“Masquerade” at Triad Stage’s main stage – Through June 26. Call 272-0160 or triadstage.org to purchase tickets.
“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” at Brown Building Theatre – June 14-July 1. Call 272-0160 or 334-4392.
“Bomb-itty of Erors” at Triad Stage’s Upstage Cabaret – June 17-July 2. Call 272-0160.
See details, set design, schedules and more at http://www.triadstage.org/mainstage/masquerade/index.php and http://triadstage.org/upstage/theatre232-11/.
By Mike Harris.
Photograph of John Wolf by David Wilson.