Meet the new Artistic Director at GVT: Paul Stancato

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

The state’s professional theatre, Greenbrier Valley Theatre (GVT) located in Lewisburg, recently hired a new Artistic Director after a national search. RealWV sat down with Paul Stancato to learn about his professionals background and how he ended up here in rural West Virginia. 

Where are you from? 

I am from Chicago, born and raised there. I got my start in theatre as a dancer and then I moved into drumming. I received my BA in theatre from Western Illinois before going to the University of Florida for graduate school where I studied acting and directing. One of my first jobs was working with Pat Burch (who choreographed Grease), so I was very much in awe of her. 

Tell us about your work in the arts over the years? 

I was a “blue man” in the famous Blue Man Group right after I moved to New York City. I found myself on the precipice of all this new theatre coming out “off broadway” with Blue Man Group and then a show called De La Guarda in the late 1990s. I had a chance to interact with my heroes like Sting and Harrison Ford. 

Once the 2000s hit, I started looking to do more things in the nature of creating my own work. I was invited to go on tour with The Buddy Holly Story. I played Jerry Allison, the drummer. I started writing on the tour and I wrote oonenly of my first musicals, called Rock Show. That was produced off broadway. I really started finding a love for writing and got into choreographing and worked on my first broadway show, The Wedding Singer, which was adapted from the movie. Then later on I was introduced to The Lion King, and I became the resident director of that show. 

I did that for a few years and then went to china with Franco Dragon, one of the founders of Cirque de Soleil, on a show called House of Dancing Water in Macao. I worked on that and lived in China two years, before being invited to become Artistic Director of Timberlake Playhouse. That brought me back home near Chicago. 

How did you end up here in West Virginia? 

Well, funny story. I was in New York doing a Carol King musical. I was having lunch with a friend, who became a director. She directed Steel Magnolias and Murder for Two here in Lewisburg. She told me about this place and how great it was. She knew they were looking for a new producing Artistic Director and encouraged me to apply. They invited me to come and be one of three finalists. I met with the staff and board and then a few weeks later they offered me the job. 

What do you think of Appalachia so far? 

I’m familiar with Appalachia because my wife was born in Boone, NC. She was raised in the mountains. We got married in Crossnore, which is about the same elevation as Lewisburg. She introduced me to the mountains. I also ran a theatre in the cornfields of Illinois. Sometimes you think theatre is only for city folks, but the impact live theatre has on everybody including rural areas is profound. Theatre is alive and well, and it’s needed in America. 

Can you say more about the impact of the arts in rural America? 

Community means little in the city. You’re around people you’ll never see again everyday. But here in communities, people matter. That sense of community is important to me personally, especially as I get older. It means more. To have that connective tissue with somebody means something. Theatre is supposed to bring people together for a shared experience. You can talk about it after a show and grow through conversation. Theatre is supposed to ignite a conversation. That’s impactful in a small community, especially. I’m listening and want to hear from our community about what they want to hear and see. 

What Cathey Sawyer did with GVT is amazing. I owe it to her and those who started GVT in 1966 and those who’ve been there ever since that we take this legacy into the future.

How do you envision the future of GVT? 

I’ve been doing a lot of listening. The community has felt a little absent. How can we reignite the community to come back and reinvest? Both in patrons, performers, and donors? It’s my hope to extend my arm and hit a reset button. 

I want to do bigger shows, splashy broadway musicals. In order to do that, I need the community. I need our local dancers and singers and actors to be able to accomplish what I think we want. That’s fun shows, musicals, and staying true to what GVT has been able to bring–plays, comedies, dramas, classics like Odd Couple or Streetcar Named Desire. I also want to tell West VIrginia stories that resonate here. I want to open up the pallet and offer shows everybody can enjoy. Young, old, families, new generations, and long time supporters. We want to forge ahead and carry on the legacy. 

What shows are you excited about this season? 

The Million Dollar Quartet. I’ve been dying to be involved in this show for years! I’m a big fan of early 50s rock and roll–Elvis, Cash, etc. 

Also, A Tuna Christmas is a laugh riot. It’s laugh-out-loud comedy. Two actors play over 30 roles. 

GVT is doing our first collaboration with Carnegie Hall and the Greenbrier Valley Chorale. We are doing four shows of the Hunchback of Notre Dame this July 25, 26, & 27. It will be held at Carnegie. Tickets are going fast. I get to brag to all of my friends back in New York that I’m doing a Carnegie Hall show!

Anything else you’d like to share with the community? 

I’ve been very welcomed here by this community. I went to church and was so welcomed. If you see me, please come say hi and shake my hand. I’m a people person. One of my main jobs is to be able to welcome folks to GVT. I count my blessing that I’m here in the Greenbrier Valley. 

For more info about upcoming shows at GVT, please visit their website.

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