Passion is defined as a strong, compelling emotion or feeling, or an intense desire. Such a magnanimous desire will naturally lead to an active pursuit of fulfillment. Centerstage Theatre Company was founded on passion. Decades after the student run theatre company was founded, it is the passion of his peers that Vincent Sassone remembers. “I found a lot of passion in people around me,” he says in an interview with current Centerstage President, Carson Collins. As Centerstage Theatre celebrates our 40th year, we wanted to take a moment to look back on our journey, and where better to start than the very beginning?
Back when Father O’Connell Hall functioned as a student center called the “Cardinal Center,” Sassone and his peers saw a need for more opportunities on campus.They reached out to CUA administrators and, with their support and guidance, the students formed their company. They named it “The Not Ready for Hartke Players.” Centerstage’s first show, under the aforementioned company name, was a Woody Allen RomCom style Musical cabaret in the student center, where every audience member received a glass of wine to sip. Shortly after this first show was a success, an offshoot comedy troupe was formed to produce continuous original work. Centerstage today continues to realize our founders’ vision of a company producing new student works with our events “24 Hour Musical” and “For the Students, By the Students.”
Centerstage’s development has been a journey, and the drama hasn’t always stayed on the stage. In 1986, the formation of Crosswalk Theatre Company sparked some conversation about Centerstage’s ability to adequately fulfill the growing need for theatre on campus. A series of articles published in The Tower document the conversation between Crosswalk and Centerstage. Centerstage was supportive of Crosswalk’s formation saying, “There should be more outlets for student to use to get involved in theatre.”
Crosswalk ultimately didn’t last. Issues with financing arose, the board couldn’t overcome their “artistic differences,” and the members were “emotionally drained” from the arduous task of running a company. They disbanded within a year. Not only is Crosswalk’s failure is a testament to Centerstage’s endurance, but Crosswalk’s foundation was a challenge for Centerstage to answer. They had to adjust to accommodate the growing demands for theatre on campus.
In 1986, Crosswalk formed under the pretense that Centerstage hadn’t recognized a need for increased theatre on campus. In 1987, Centerstage was named ‘Organization of the Year.” Centerstage has survived through budget cuts, less-than profesional leaders, the formation of other theatre. This 40th anniversary season we will feature two cabarets, two mainstage productions, and an afternoon of new musicals.
Back in a 1978 Tower article Sassone said, “It’s not that we’re afraid of being serious, but right now, we’re not ready for it.” Now, in 2019, Centerstage is ready. We are grateful to all those who have come before and paved the way for our success today. Sassone expressed a hope that the company we now called Centerstage will remain a “stepping stone and a means of recreation for interested students in the future.” It has indeed remained a means of recreation, but it has grown into much more than that. It is a stepping stone for students to find their place in theatre beyond the stage. Centerstage allows students to discover a passion in directing, design, or management. As students graduate and move on, they leave behind a company to be run and art to be made. Only so much can be taught in a classroom. Centerstage teaches that which cannot: independence.
As young artists move through CUA to their lives in the industry, Centerstage is likely the earliest opportunity they encounter to produce art unaided. They grow in inimitable ways with Centerstage and, as they move forward, Centerstage continues to foster young artists. Perhaps the most beautiful part of Centerstage is it’s ever-changing family. Centerstage thrives on passing down knowledge and paying forward passion. It teaches us independence, so when CUA is in our past, our Centerstage experience can guide our future.