December 2, 2021

Gregg Stull: Return to the Stage

Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Gregg Stull sets the scene as he shares his first impressions of his alma mater.

Theatre and Dance Professor and Chair Gregg Stull

Theatre and Dance Professor and Chair Gregg Stull

“I discovered Mary Washington when we visited my aunts who lived on Kenmore Avenue,” said Stull, who earned a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts in 1982. “I remember sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car as we passed by the gates.”

First in his family to attend college, Stull described campus life as “idyllic” and slow paced – with one exception. In the theatre department, amid the hustle and bustle of rehearsals and shows, he learned not only to perform onstage but how to run lights, paint scenery, build costumes and manage the box office, under the guidance of supportive faculty members. “They encouraged us to stretch ourselves in every direction.”

Stull, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, put his studies to work as managing director of D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre, before being hired first as an adjunct in 1990, then as a full-time instructor.

Now, as department chair, Stull ensures UMW’s aspiring thespians still receive a well-rounded education, even during the pandemic. With stages going dark everywhere, the department pulled together and persevered, delving into virtual productions, offering online and socially distanced courses, and employing professional actors to teach via Zoom.

But nothing compares to performing for a live audience, Stull said. In September, COVID precautions in place, UMW Theatre returned to the stage to perform Joan Holden’s Nickel and Dimed. After an 18-month hiatus, Mary Washington served as model to other schools as to how to safely resurrect live performances.

Next up is the Tony Award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a teen who investigates the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog, opening Nov. 11, followed by The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Julius Caesar.

“Ours is work that demands we share space, proximity and even breath with each other,” Stull said. “We need to be in dialogue with an audience; nothing can replicate that moment of connection.”

Purchase tickets for UMW Theatre’s upcoming performances. Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative test are required.

 

Q: As a student, did a particular professor make an impact on you?
A: My advisor, Roger Kenvin, sparked a curiosity in me about the world that made me see myself beyond my rural high school and Mary Washington. We still exchange handwritten letters, 43 years later.

Q: How will Curious Incident resonate with audiences?
A: It’s an extraordinary story about challenging assumptions, exceeding expectations and navigating the chaos of life. It’s filled with hope and joy, which we could all use more of right now.

Q: Thoughts on UMW’s planned new theatre complex?
A: We’ve outgrown duPont and need facilities that support our work and project the theatre spaces students will encounter when they enter their professional lives.

Q: You were executive director of the NAMES Project, which displays the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and recently contributed to UMW’s LGBTQ+ Alumni Oral History Collection. What message do you hope to convey to the next generation doing this work?
A: Being part of a global project fighting for the rights of people who were dying without a voice affirmed for me that art is powerful and can change the world. I hope today’s young people will honor the struggle that brought us to this point in history and remember those whose lives were lost when the world – not so long ago – did not value difference.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?
A: When students discover themselves as a result of working on a production, I know I’m doing what I was called to do.

Q: Most challenging?
A: Meeting and responding to our ever-changing world on our stages and in our classrooms and studios.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I went to culinary school in Italy and was a stage (French for “cooking apprentice”) at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Emilia-Romagna.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Thinking and doing, doing and thinking,
That is the sum of all wisdom. – Goethe