Stuart Landon had only a minimal learning curve when he assumed the role of producing artistic director of Open Stage of Harrisburg last month.
“I’d spent the last 10 years at Open Stage,” Landon said of the downtown Harrisburg theater, established in 1986 by Donald and Anne Alsedek, along with Marianne Fischer.
A decade ago, Landon landed at Open Stage after performing in a handful of community-theater productions—including as the male lead (Curly) in “Oklahoma” at Allenberry Playhouse—and directing a few others. He auditioned for Open Stage’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Not even three years later, he was on staff, first as marketing manager and later as associate artistic director.
Since then, Landon hasn’t done any “outside” acting, except for a few regional cabarets.
He was drawn to Open Stage after being impressed by two of its productions, “Come Back, Little Sheba” and “I am My Own Wife.” But as a self-described “musical theater guy,” Landon might not have formed such a strong connection if he hadn’t learned Open Stage was presenting “Little Shop of Horrors.” He auditioned for, and later starred in, the horror comedy-rock musical.
Even with such exposure, Landon claims he didn’t “fully understand” the essence of Open Stage until Donald Alsedek, its founding artistic director, cast him in “Well.” The play by Lisa Kron deals with mother-daughter relationships and the concepts of health and illness.
“It was a crazy cast, pretty intimate and a pretty magical experience,” he said.
Over the years, Landon has appeared in several of Open Stage’s most notable productions, including “Sondheim on Sondheim,” “The Santaland Diaries,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Doubt” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” His directorial efforts have included “The Hobbit,” “Oz” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
He has so impressed Open Stage’s founders that he was their first choice to continue what they developed and grew over 31 seasons.
“Needless to say, Stuart is extremely talented, as he has proven time and again,” said Donald Alsedek. “From the point he first auditioned and was cast, he continued to work with Open Stage and grow through the ranks as an actor, teacher, director, producer and administrator. When I made the decision to retire, Stuart was the obvious choice.”
A few things will change on Landon’s watch. Open Stage will remain at its same location in the belly of the Walnut Street Garage, but has “big plans” to change its façade, Landon said.
He also hopes to present musical theater more consistently, while retaining Open Stage’s dedication to new comedies and thought-provoking dramas. For the coming season, many of the works are by women about women.
Scheduled for 2017-18 are “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler, “Akeelah and the Bee” (by Cheryl L. West, based on the book by Doug Atchison) and “Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties” by Jen Silverman. Open Stage also has commissioned a new adaptation by Laura Dugan of the classic, “Little Women.”
Open Stage also has hired a few local female artists to stage productions in the upcoming season: Karen Ruch, Kristi Ondo and Sharia Benn, director of the new Sankofa African American Theatre Company.
“It wasn’t deliberate, but it could be a theme of sorts, to lift up female voices,” Landon said. “The selection of these plays also offers the question of what other stories Open Stage needs to tell.”
So, what are Landon’s thoughts as he settles into his second month as Open Stage’s new producing artistic director?
“I loved my time with the Alsedeks and learned a lot,” he said. “Now I’m itching to spend time and skills and energy to promote the theater.”
For his part, Donald Alsedek said he is “very comfortable” passing the Open Stage baton to Landon.
“Stuart understands the culture of the organization, and I’m certain that he’ll be more than just a steward,” he said. “He will meld the values of the theater with his unique artistic vision.”
Even in retirement, Donald Alsedek will continue to shepherd Sankofa, which Open Stage helped launch, while Anne Alsedek, Open Stage’s long-term education director, still will teach classes at the downtown Harrisburg theater.
Besides his theater duties, Landon will retain his “second” job: director of community relations at Midtown Cinema.
“I’ve come to realize how much the patrons and subscribers of live theater and of independent film overlap,” he said.
In his new position at Open Stage, Landon will have his hand in just about everything, including theater administration, which he’s eager to take on.
“He’s full of ideas, eager and ready to take charge of the theater,” said Anne Alsedek. “He has given Don and me respect and cooperation and is well liked and admired in the community.”
Ultimately, the Alsedeks are confident that their great gift to Harrisburg—Open Stage—is in good hands as they retire.
“Things will change, but they should,” said Anne. “I wish him the best of luck, and can’t wait to see what he does.”
Open Stage of Harrisburg is located at 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-232-6736 or visit www.openstagehbg.com.
Author: Barbara Trainin Blank