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whARTon at home Connections

Our stages may be dark, but the creative process endures


The stages at Wharton Center are quiet now, providing us with a unique opportunity to engage in new ways with extraordinary artists who make performing arts happen. whARTon at home Connections is a series of in-depth conversations with artists exploring their process,  their insights into creativity, and a look at their personal success stories. Wharton Center stages will again ignite with live entertainment but until that time, join us once a month for a conversation with an artist exclusively for you from the comfort of your home.

Upcoming Connections Conversations

A Conversation with Directors Jack Reuler, Melia Bensussen, and Michael Haney on April 22, 2021

Wharton Center Institute for Arts and Creativity Executive Director Bert Goldstein is joined by MSU Department of Theatre students in interviewing three successful directors. Join us as we discover how they describe the job of a director and the experiences that got them to where they are today.

Bio: Jack Reuler

Jack Reuler founded the Mixed Blood Theatre Company at the age of 22 and has served as its Artistic Director since then. Mixed Blood is dedicated to the spirit of Dr. King’s dream, promoting successful pluralism using theatre as a vehicle for artistry, entertainment, education, and effecting social change. To that end, he has produced and directed 151 world premieres and scores of comedies, musicals, extravaganzas, and chamber theatre pieces in regional theaters, commercial theaters, university theaters, summer stock theaters, and theaters for young audiences from Juneau to Jacksonville and La Jolla to Off-Broadway.

In 2010 Theatre Communications group presented Jack with its Peter Zeisler Award, for “exemplifying pioneering practices in theatre, dedication to the freedom of expression, and for being unafraid to take risks in the advancement of the art form.” Jack has received the Ordway’s Sally Award for Vision, Actors’ Equity’s Spirit Award, and the St. Paul Foundation named him a Facing Race Ambassador. He was presented with the Ivey Award for Lifetime Achievement and was named a Local Legend by the United Negro College Fund. At APAP, he was presented with the Met Life Access Award on behalf of Mixed Blood for the theatre’s disability initiatives.

Jack was named to Esquire magazine’s first “Register of People Under Forty Who Are Changing America.” He has also received Actors’ Equity’s first Rosetta LeNoire Award for “celebrating the universality of the human experience on the American stage,” Macalester College’s Distinguished Citizen Award, The City’s Minneapolis Award, and Minneapolis Community College’s Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award.  Twin Cities Business named Jack a 2O21 person to watch as a change agent.

Bio: Melia Bensussen

MELIA BENSUSSEN  has directed extensively around the country since 1984, including productions at the Huntington Theatre, Merrimack Rep, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage, Hartford Stage Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Class Company, Primary Stages, the Long Wharf Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Actors Theatre of Louisville (Humana Festival), People’s Light and Theatre Company (where she received a Barrymore nomination for Best Direction), Bay Street, and Playwrights Horizons.

Her highly regarded work with new plays has taken her to the O’Neill Theater Center, New York Stage and Film/Powerhouse, the Midwest Playlabs/The Playwrights Center, and other new play programs across the U.S. Ongoing collaborations with playwrights include such wonderful writers as Kirsten Greenidge, Annie Baker, Mat Smart, Ken Urban, Masha Obolensky, Jeffrey Hatcher, Lee Blessing, Richard Dresser, Willy Holtzman, Edwin Sanchez, Y York, and Jose Rivera, among others.

Raised in Mexico City, Melia is fluent in Spanish and has translated and adapted a variety of texts. Her edition of the Langston Hughes translation of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding is now in its eighth printing by Theatre Communications Group.

Besides winning the OBIE award for Outstanding Direction, Melia was twice given Directing Awards by the Princess Grace Foundation, USA, including their top honor, the Statuette Award for Sustained Excellence in Directing. She is featured in Women Stage Directors Speak by Rebecca Daniels (McFarland and Co.), and in Nancy Taylor’s Women Direct Shakespeare (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press). Her essay on Merchant of Venice was recently published in Jews, Theatre, Performance in an Intercultural Context by Brill Publishing.

A graduate of Brown University, Melia served for over a decade as the Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Emerson College in Boston, and currently is the Chair of the Arts Advisory Board of the Princess Grace Foundation. She also serves on the SDC Executive Board.

Melia is the Artistic Director of Hartford Stage, in Hartford, CT.

Bio: Michael Evan Haney

Michael Evan Haney (Director) Mr. Haney is celebrating his 50th year in professional theatre during which time he has acted in and or directed more than 200 productions including directing Around the World in 80 Days Off-Broadway appearing in Elie Wiesel’s Zalmen on Broadway and playing fourteen roles in the National Tour of Charles Dickens’ The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. His regional directing credits include Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Washington DC’s Arena Stage, Baltimore’s Center Stage, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, The Mark Taper Forum in LA, Westport Country Playhouse and Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Internationally, Mr. Haney appeared in Our Town and Inherit the Wind for The Arena Stage’s tour of the USSR playing The Moscow Art Theatre and the Pushkin Theatre in Leningrad. He directed shows at the English Theatres of Vienna and Frankfurt as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He was the Artistic Director of the Allenberry Playhouse in Pennsylvania for four years and the Associate Artistic Director for The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for 15 years, where he directed among others the award-winning productions of The Clean House, Blackbird, The Syringa Tree, As You Like It, Crime & Punishment, Speaking In Tongues, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, A Christmas Carol (for 27 years) and the world premieres of A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler, The History of Invulnerability by David Bar Katz (a play about Superman and the Holocaust), Hiding Behind Comets by Brian Dykstra, Dreaming Glacier Bay by Joel Bennet and Summerland by Arlitia Jones. He co-wrote an adaptation of A Christmas Carol for Perseverance Theatre in Alaska and a radio version presented by Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre for NPR. He resides in Minnesota with his wife Amy Warner. They have appeared together in the movie Carol, playing Cate Blanchett’s in-laws and in DARK WATERS with Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. 

A conversation with Courtney Reed

Courtney Reed was last seen in Lauren Yee’s award-winning play Cambodian Rock Band at The Signature Theatre. She originated the role of 'Princess Jasmine’ in Disney's smash Broadway hit Aladdin, directed by Casey Nicholaw. She also had the honor of being a part of the closing cast of the Tony Award-Winning Musical In The Heights, in which she played ‘Carla,’ u/s ‘Nina’ and ‘Vanessa.’ She made her Broadway debut in Mamma Mia! Favorite Regional: ‘Andrea’ in Once on This Island at Papermill Playhouse directed by Thomas Kail. Television: Liza on Demand, Search Party, The Affair, Law & Order: SVU, White Collar, NYC 22, and CSI: NY. She will also be appearing in the upcoming Drake Doremus Film “Endings, Beginnings,” starring Shailene Woodley. She is a proud graduate of the Theatre Conservatory of The CCPA at Roosevelt University.

A conversation with Katie Travis & Korie Lee Blossey

Watch our exclusive conversation with two Broadway actors originally from Bay City, Michigan, as they share the stories of their careers in theatre and the joint efforts to give back to students in the Mid-Michigan area.

A conversation with Tom Hanks

Watch our exclusive conversation with two time Academy Award-winning actor, Tom Hanks.

A conversation with Anita Gaffney, Executive Director of Stratford Festival

The Stratford Festival of Canada is one of the largest and most prestigious theatre companies in the world. So how does one go from selling ice cream in the lobby to eventually overseeing this enormous operation with an annual budget in excess of $60 million dollars? You’ll find out when we talk with Anita Gaffney, Stratford Festival’s Executive Director, about her amazing rise to the top, about the Festival itself and it’s post-COVID plans to resume producing theatre.

Bio: Anita Gaffney

Since being appointed Executive Director of the Stratford Festival in 2012, Ms Gaffney has guided the Festival towards financial stability while supporting the introduction of a number of new initiatives including The Forum, The Laboratory, the HD film series and the Stratford Direct bus service. The Festival is in the midst of a $100 million campaign to support the redevelopment of the Tom Patterson Theatre and the activities housed in this new facility. The new Tom Patterson Theatre is set to open in the spring of 2020.


Ms Gaffney joined the Festival in 1991 as a Publicity Assistant, and over the past 29 years has held a variety of positions, including Director of Marketing during the theatre’s years of peak attendance.


An active member of the Stratford community, Ms Gaffney is Past Chair of the City of Stratford’s economic development agency, the Stratford Public Library, and in 2011 she served as the Campaign Chair of the United Way Perth-Huron.


Ms Gaffney was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network in 2018 and received an honorary doctorate from Western University in 2019. 

She participated in the Governor General’s Leadership Conference in 2008 and received a Business Excellence Award for Personal Achievement from the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce in 2006


She has an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business and a degree in English Language and Literature from Western University. She has continued her executive education through Harvard Business School. She resides in Stratford with her husband, Kevin.

A conversation with José Rivera, Playwright and Screen Writer

Join us as we talk with award-winning playwright and screenwriter José Rivera about his extraordinary career and life where at one point he was working as a janitor during the day to survive and writing plays at night and is now sighted as one of America’s most accomplished and daring writers. Mr. Rivera will discuss his theatre and film career.

Bio: José Rivera

José Rivera’s 26 plays have been seen nationally and internationally and translated into a dozen languages.  His Obie Award winning plays Marisol and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, both produced by The Public Theatre, NY, are taught at universities around the country.  Other plays include Cloud Tectonics, Sueño, Boleros for the Disenchanted, Brainpeople, Massacre (Sing to Your Children), The Last Book of Homer, and Adoration of the Old Woman.  His screenplay “The Motorcycle Diaries,” was nominated for 2005 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar (making him the first Puerto Rican writer so honored), BAFTA and WGA Awards.   “On the Road” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.  “Trade” was the first film to premiere at the United Nations.  Rivera co-created and produced “Eerie, Indiana,” (NBC) and was a staff writer on “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” (Showtime) 2019. In 2019 he produced and directed the short film “The Fall of a Sparrow” as well as the world premiere workshop of his play Lovesong (Imperfect) at the 14th Street Y.  He has served on the boards of Theatre Communication Group and the Sundance Institute and mentored at Sundance Screenwriting Labs in Utah, Jordan, and India.  He is currently writing all 20 episodes of the TV adaptation of One Hundred Years of Solitude for Netflix.  His most recent play Your Name Means Dream was given a reading at the 2020 Sundance Theatre Lab.

A conversation with Frannie Shepherd-Bates, Founder and Director of Shakespeare in Prison

Shakespeare in Prison, Detroit Public Theatre’s signature community program, empowers incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. Join Frannie Shepherd-Bates and Wharton Center’s Bert Goldstein plus two actors from the program to explore how theater and Shakespeare have changed the lives of people who have been incarcerated.

Bio: Frannie Shepherd-Bates

Frannie is the founder and director of Shakespeare in Prison, Detroit Public Theatre's signature community program. In addition to her prison work, Frannie has directed plays for many of southeast Michigan's theatres and youth education programs. She also served as Director of Programs for Detroit Public Theatre, and Director of Education for Water Works Theatre Company for several years. Frannie has been recognized for her work as an artist and arts advocate by the Wilde Awards (Critics' Choice 2013; Best of the Bard 2015; Best Play nomination 2016), the Pulsar Awards (Best Play 2017), and CBS Detroit. She has spoken about prison theatre at conferences such as Shakespeare in Prisons (2013, 2017), Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed (2017), Art X Detroit (2015), and Human Rights Through Education (University of Michigan, 2013). She has been featured numerous times in local, regional, national, and international media for her work in prisons and as an artist.

A conversation with Jerry Mitchell & Paul Canaan

Shakespeare in Prison, Detroit Public Theatre’s signature community program, empowers incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. Join Frannie Shepherd-Bates and Wharton Center’s Bert Goldstein plus two actors from the program to explore how theater and Shakespeare have changed the lives of people who have been incarcerated.

Bio: Paul Canaan

Canaan (3.7MB) copy.jpgPaul Canaan's Broadway credits include Kinky Boots (dance captain / original Angel), Miss Saigon, Thoroughly Modern Millie, La Cage Aux Folles, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Legally Blonde (also appeared as a judge on the MTV reality show Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods).

He partnered with director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell to launch The Original Production Inc. A dance licensing company that offers high schools and theaters the opportunity to learn and perform original Broadway choreography.

He also founded the arts organization Take It From The Top, which provides professional theatre mentoring and training to aspiring young artists. He served as artistic director of The Broadway Dreams Foundation, developed education programs for Kids Night on Broadway in New York, and served as a judge for The National High School Musical Theatre Awards (The JIMMY AWARDS).

Bio: Jerry Mitchell

images.jpegJerry Mitchell received the Tony Award in recognition of his choreography for the 2013 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Kinky Boots, for which he was also nominated as director. He directed and choreographed Pretty Woman on Broadway. He was recently nominated for an Olivier Award for his choreography in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which he also directed and co-produced in the West End. In the 35 preceding years, Jerry has been involved with more than 50 Broadway, Off-Broadway, West End, and touring productions, starting as a dancer for Agnes de Mille in Brigadoon and thereafter assisting Michael Bennett and Jerome Robbins. His Broadway debut as choreographer, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, was followed by The Full Monty (Tony nomination); The Rocky Horror Show; Hairspray (Tony nomination); Gypsy; Never Gonna Dance (Tony nomination); Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Tony nomination); La Cage aux Folles (Tony Award); Imaginary Friends; Legally Blonde (Tony nomination), which he also directed; Catch Me If You Can; and Kinky Boots (also running in London, Korea, Germany, Australia and on National Tour.).

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