Shenandoah Conservatory Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre Harold “Hal” Herman, B.A., founder and producing artistic director of Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre (SSMT), has announced his retirement, accepting the new position of artistic director emeritus. Long-time SSMT Music Director Thomas Albert, D.M.A., has been named artistic director.
“I am honored to accept the position of artistic director emeritus, and am delighted that Tom [Albert] will be taking over the leadership of SSMT,” said Herman.
“There’s a magic to doing theatre, and I always look forward to the summer and our SSMT productions,” said Dr. Albert. “I am honored to become artistic director of this unique company and can only hope to continue to thrill audiences in the same way that Hal has throughout the years.”
Since the early 1960s, Herman, himself an accomplished actor, dreamt of a summer stock theatre company that would provide Shenandoah students opportunities to work in a professional settings before venturing out to pursue their careers. His dream became a reality in 1984, when SSMT presented its first season of four fully staged musicals: “Shenandoah,” “George M!,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Sugar.”
That first season was staffed largely by Shenandoah Conservatory faculty and students, and three current faculty members have been part of every SSMT season since: Albert, who also serves as Charles B. Levitin Chair in Music Theatre and Professor of Composition and Musical Theatre Direction; Scenic and Lighting Designer William “Mac” Bozman, M.F.A. (Harold Herman Endowed Chair in Musical Theatre and Professor of Theatre); and Choreographer Robyn Hart Schroth, M.A. (Auxiliary Adjunct Assistant Professor of Dance). Until 1998, all theatre productions were staged in Armstrong. The theatre program moved to Ruebush Hall and the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre when that building opened in 1998.
Herman is rightfully proud of the summer theatre company’s growth and the experiences it provides for the actors, stage technicians, costumers, musicians and, most especially, the audience.
“For the actors, [SSMT] gives them the opportunity to prove their skill, knowledge and talent in a full-scale production before an audience that may not know them and will judge their quality based on what it sees,” he said. “For the audience, it gives them a full-scale musical production with live orchestra – which many summer music theatres do not have – at affordable prices.”
Under Herman’s 31 years of leadership, SSMT mounted 124 productions, drawing enthusiastic audiences from an increasingly wide geographical area. During its 25th anniversary season in 2008, SSMT presented its 100th show, “The Producers,” at a time when it was among the very first companies to be given rights to perform the Tony Award-winning hit.
Herman himself is no stranger to the SSMT stage. One of his notable roles was his portrayal of “Tevye” in “Fiddler on the Roof” in the 1985 production; he reprised this role in 1995, 2001 and 2008.
With such a long history, some tall tales have circulated about SSMT, and Herman has previously confirmed that at least one – the blackboard story – is true. “We had a blackboard just off stage, near my office in Armstrong,” he said. “When actors made mistakes, I would write notes during shows. And, when I was on stage one night in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ I forgot my lines. While still on stage, I heard the distinctive sound of notes being written on my chalkboard.”
Dean of Shenandoah Conservatory Michael Stepniak, Ed.D., expressed his “deep gratitude for the extraordinary venture Hal shaped through his tremendous vision.”
“SSMT is now one of the most significant conservatory and university-based summer musical theatre seasons in the country,” said Dr. Stepniak. “I join the legion of colleagues and friends who have come to understand not only the scope and depth of Hal’s passion but also the integrity of his work. Shenandoah Conservatory is grateful for his artistry, mentorship and vision.”
Shenandoah Conservatory and the SSMT community will have the opportunity to honor Herman, his vision, and his legacy during the upcoming 2015 season, which marks SSMT’s 32nd year. The season features three musicals new to the SSMT stage: Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical farce, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “The Addams Family,” featuring Charles Addams’ spooky cartoon family, and “The Wiz,” a rock, gospel and soul-infused retelling of Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz. Concluding the season is an SSMT favorite, “The Music Man.”
Subscription packages and single tickets for SSMT’s 2015 season are currently available at www.ssmtva.com and at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre Box Office (540-665-4569), located on the campus of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.
Contributions may also be made to Shenandoah University endowments that honor Herman including the Harold Herman SSMT Endowment Fund and/or the Harold Herman Chair in Music Theatre. To give online, visit www.su.edu/give and choose “Click here for a list of other giving priorities” to select either of these funds under “Programs/Special Initiatives.”
Donations may also be given directly to “Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre (SSMT)” under the list of gift designations on the giving page. To donate by check, please note your designation in the memo area and mail to: Shenandoah University, Office of Advancement, 1460 University Drive, Winchester, VA 22601. For questions, email email@example.com or call (888) 697-2111.
More information and reflections on Herman’s lasting legacy with Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre will be detailed in the June 2015 issue of the university’s Shenandoah magazine.