Steve Braddock admits it's a good thing that he's fond of puzzles. As Niagara University's new director of theater, he'll be responsible for ensuring that the classical and contemporary performances he selects are compatible with and challenging to his students. Braddock will also have to make sure that the quality of the shows live up to the expectations of the university's loyal theater audience and appeal to a wider demographic.
At least he'll have David Dwyer to help him.
Braddock and Dwyer, NU's new assistant professor of theater and principal scenic designer, joined Niagara in July following the departure of former theater director Gregory Fletcher, who is renewing his career as a playwright and director in New York City.
Braddock comes to Niagara University from Syracuse, where he served as the artistic director of the Gifford Family Theatre, a professional theater for young audiences at Le Moyne College. Instituted with a grant from the Gifford Foundation in 2000, the funding was originally intended to serve the theater for three years. However, thanks to Braddock's creative staging and strong box office numbers, the theater has flourished for 11 years, and intends to produce a mainstage show in spring 2012.
"To be honest, I wasn't actively looking for something new (before coming across the position at Niagara)," Braddock says. "But when the position presented itself, I took a close look and realized that it offered me an opportunity to grow, push myself, and continue to develop as a producer, director and educator. I talked it over with my wife, Bonnie, and she encouraged me to apply. Also, both of our sons are in college, so having the empty nest gave us the flexibility to make the change."
One thing that won't change much is Niagara's 2011-12 theater schedule, a lineup that was in place before Braddock landed on Monteagle Ridge. And while the Colorado College and University of Southern California graduate concedes that working with a framework constructed by someone else requires an accelerated acclimation process, he's up for the challenge.
"I have to play catch-up a little so that I can make sure I'm on the same page with the shows' directors," he says. "When I began, I was given the opportunity to review and suggest any season changes that might benefit the program. After many illuminating conversations with the other faculty members, we decided to change one show, and it's one I'll be directing, so I'm very happy about that."
That show is "Damn Yankees" (Nov. 10-20), an interesting choice given the allegiance to the Boston Red Sox that Braddock acquired during the seven years that he spent as an instructor and artist-in-residence in Worcester, Mass. Despite the selection, Braddock says that he hasn't received too much grief from baseball aficionados in what is historically a New York Yankees-supporting area.
"It hasn't been too bad. There's the usual good-natured banter between the Yankees fans and myself, which I appreciate," he says.
A native of New Jersey, Braddock earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Colorado College in 1981 and a master's in acting from USC in 1984. He went on to teach theater at middle and high schools in Worcester, and then at Anna Maria College and Worcester State College. After moving to Syracuse in 1997, Braddock served as the director of education at Syracuse Stage from 1998 to 2000 before launching the Gifford Family Theatre. While running the GFT, Braddock taught classes at Le Moyne College and Syracuse University. His directing credits include a wide range of works from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen, Paula Vogel, Suzan Zeder, Jason Robert Brown and Kristine Thatcher, to name a few.
Meanwhile, Dwyer holds a bachelor's (along with an oral communication certificate with distinction) from Marietta College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in production design from Michigan State University. As a freelance designer, he has worked primarily in the eastern U.S., including at The Boarshead Theatre, Theatre Winterhaven, Dance Ocala, Gemstone Productions, The Gorilla Theatre and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. He served as technical director for the Showboat Becky Thatcher and Northern Michigan University, as well as technical director and scenic and lighting designer at Southern Virginia University. Dwyer also maintains his own website, www.dwyerdesignstudio.com.
The duo is now gearing up for "The Women of Lockerbie," which kicks off Niagara's theatrical schedule on Oct. 20. According to Braddock, he and Dwyer have a great working relationship, making the transition to NU easier for both of them.
"David's set for 'The Women of Lockerbie,' which Amanda Sharpe is directing, is gorgeous and evocative of the Scottish lowlands," he says. "And I'm really enjoying the process of working on the 'Damn Yankees' set with him. His ideas are fueling some of the approach I'm taking to the actors in rehearsal."
In terms of pleasant surprises since coming to Niagara, Braddock says that the university's training program is among the strongest he's ever seen.
"A B.F.A. program, fused with a liberal arts core curriculum, provides our graduates with the tools they'll need to be successful, whether in the theater or in other fields they might pursue. The faculty and staff are as talented, committed and caring a group of people as I've been privileged to work with. If my children were theatrically inclined, this is where I'd like them to be," he says.
"I did learn that you don't leave your office for home at 6:15 on a Tuesday night during the summer if you live in Lewiston. When Artpark hosted Lynyrd Skynyrd (July 26), it took me 75 minutes to drive three miles."
To view Niagara University's full 2011-12 theater schedule, visit http://theatre.niagara.edu.