A new dawn for the Waldron
New Waldron artistic director looks to future
A Q & A with Paul Daily, artistic director of the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center
By Anne Kibbler
Special to the Hoosier Times
October 3, 2010
Last spring, Ivy Tech bought the John Waldron Arts Center from the city of Bloomington, which had taken over ownership of the building from the ailing Bloomington Area Arts Council. The council, in apparent financial disarray and facing criticism that its rental fees were too costly for local arts groups to afford, had laid off staff, cut operating hours and turned to volunteers to keep the center open.
Ivy Tech has begun renovating the center, which will operate as an educational institution but also will remain open to the public as a community arts venue. In July, Indiana University theater graduate Paul Daily became the center’s artistic director, moving to Bloomington with his wife, Courtney, and children Spencer, 2, and Finn, 6 months. The Herald-Times spoke with him about his new position.
QUESTION: You came to Bloomington from Kokomo, and before that you were in New York City. I know you graduated from the theater department at IU, but what brought you back to Indiana?
ANSWER: I’m from Kokomo originally. I had a son, born almost three years ago, and I wanted to be close to family for that support. We knew we couldn’t afford to raise a family in New York, so that was the first step toward what we thought was finding home.
Q: Did you have a goal of moving back to Bloomington?
A: Bloomington wasn’t on my radar. I was considering going back to get an MFA in acting and directing, and I never once looked at IU, not because I had a problem with IU, but because when I was an undergraduate they had a policy of not taking undergraduates into the master’s program.
Q: What’s it like to be back?
A: It’s terrific. It immediately felt like coming home. It’s a great compromise for us. My wife couldn’t be happier. It has all the activities and culture she wants, and it still feels like an Indiana small town for me, which is what I need. For the first time, we both feel like we may be in a place we could stay.
Q: Were you aware of community arts as a student?
A: I was aware of community arts. The theater program is a large program, and if you wanted to be doing shows, you couldn’t rely just on the university theater. I performed as a student at the Waldron myself, and I did work with the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
Q: In New York you were involved in establishing a community theater, Rabbit Hole Ensemble. Tell me about that experience.
A: One of the graduate students at IU, Edward Elefterion, began casting me in his shows. We found we worked very well together. We had the same aesthetic and idea of what theater was. We both ended up in New York, and we had a dream of creating an ensemble of like-minded individuals. It sounds like such a cliche. But we did make cliche. But we did make that happen. The first summer we were operating as a company, we were invited to two of the most important festivals in New York: the New York International Fringe Festival and the Midtown International Theatre Festival. The exposure we got was fantastic. We built up a following immediately.
Q: Why was your theater different?
A: So much theater, not only in New York, but also in a lot of places in the U.S., tries to do what film does very well, which is replicate realistic worlds. We purposely went in a different direction, where we said theater is a place of imagination. We continually asked the audience to use their imaginations, helped by the actors. We had no sets and we had no lights except for lights held by the actors. The sound was provided by the actors. It was like a radio play. Our take was that the actors created the world, and the goal was to get the audience into that world.
Q: Is the theater still going?
A: Yes, it’s still going strong.
Q: What did you learn in New York that you are bringing to Bloomington?
A: What college does for you as an artist is to introduce you to a bunch of techniques. I’ve spent the last 12 years honing my own personal technique. Because I helped start and run a theater company, I learned all kinds of management skills I never thought I would need.
Q: Your title is artistic director, not director. What does that entail? Do you answer directly to the Ivy Tech chancellor (John Whikehart)?
A: Yes, I answer to the chancellor. He’s been fantastic. He doesn’t want the position to be simply director of the building. He told me that’s why he brought in an artist. And he’s helping me learn to be an administrator.
He wants to have a dialog with local artists, expand the arts at Ivy Tech and help students get involved in the arts. Those are my focuses. While it won’t happen this school year, I’m going to begin directing productions at Ivy Tech.
Q: The Waldron is more than theater. It’s a whole range of arts. How do you apply what you know from theater to that broad spectrum?
A: An actor from the last century, Michael Chekhov, talked about how to be a good actor you need to study all art forms. I appreciate all the arts and try to study, if not practice them. However, we have people on staff who do practice them. Julie Roberts, the gallery director, is a painter, and Amy Brier is a sculptor. Right now, in the Treasurer’s Gallery, you can see their work, and they’re amazing.
Q: Can you talk a bit more about the joint mission of serving both the community and the Ivy Tech student body?
A: I don’t know how much it’s a joint mission; it’s the mission to provide educational and cultural opportunities for the community. The Waldron is no longer a community arts building. It’s a college building that’s open to the community. While most everything is still in place — the community is free to rent performance spaces, rent galleries for receptions and take classes through the Center for Lifelong Learning — we go about it in a slightly different way. There are more rules, and we have more resources. Hopefully, over the next couple of years what people are going to see is that the fees they pay for renting space are going to back into the building, so they’ll get a better space.
We have a narrower focus for our mission than the BAAC did, which I think allows us to do what we do very well. The classes we offer are top notch. Our improved performance spaces will be top notch. We have improved some gallery spaces and will improve more. They will be top notch.
Q: I have to ask why you would want to take on this job, given the recent history of the BAAC and the problems it has had.
A: The question makes it sound as if I’m stepping into a troubled position, but with new ownership and the ability to keep the building open with the same purposes, it’s an incredible opportunity. Of course, there are challenges as we get used to new ownership, but I don’t see any negatives in taking this position.
Q: What else would you want people to know about the plans you have and what they can expect to see?
A: Improved performance spaces with new seats, new risers and new lighting; improved galleries. We’re working on the idea of a virtual gallery where we would project onto a wall. We’re at a good point. People can walk in and see the changes we’ve made and the direction we’re going.
Indiana University, bachelor of arts in theatre and drama, 1998
Scott Zigler, Bruce Burgun, Debra Hale (voice), George Pinney (movement)
Biomechanics, stage combat, nunchuka, soccer, karate, yoga, racquetball, scuba
• Actor in theater and film; awards include Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play for the role of Charles in The Manhattan Project at New York’s 2010 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
• Cofounder, associate artistic director and treasurer, Rabbit Hole Ensemble, New York, 2005 — 07
• Director, Ivy Players, Ivy Tech Community College, Kokomo, 2009 — 10
• Artistic director, Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, 2010 —
New Waldron artistic director Paul Daily Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times
The Waldron staircase is a signature feature of the building. H-T File
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