Local musical theater company Cabrillo Stage has entered a new creative phase, naming Andrea L. Hart as artistic director.
Hart was hired following the retirement in September of Jon Nordgren, who served as artistic director of the nonprofit musical theater company, which produces musicals every summer at Cabrillo College, for 17 years. Most recently, he saw the company through difficult times in the pandemic. After Covid canceled its entire 2020 season, Cabrillo Stage moved from its longtime home in the Crocker Theater to the college’s outdoor amphitheater in 2021, putting on five small shows over the course of five weekends.
“We took a huge loss in 2020,” Nordgren said earlier this year. “Last year’s shows were mostly volunteer-led, with very small audiences. It was difficult, but we did it. It turned out great.”
This summer, Cabrillo Stage returned to the Crocker, planning its first full season in the pandemic era. A staging of Grease went off without a hitch in July, earning praise for its excellent cast and direction, but the subsequent Candide—heralded as possibly the company’s most ambitious production ever—was cut short by Covid in August.
Moving Theater Forward
Hart is the first woman to lead Cabrillo Stage in its 40-year history. She moved to Santa Cruz in July after finishing a Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) in Directing at the University of Texas at Austin.
Before graduate school, she lived in the Berkeley area for 20 years, where she was a co-founder and member of several small theater companies, including 6NewPlays, which focused on producing new plays by Bay Area playwrights. She also taught visual and performing arts and directed musicals and plays in schools all over the Bay Area.
In addition to directing, Hart is also an accomplished playwright and theater maker, having had her work developed at the Great Plains Theatre Conference (GPTC), New Ohio Theatre, Hyde Park Theatre, the University of Texas New Theatre Festival of New Work and more. While working as Director of Education and Public Programs at the Oceanside Museum of Art, she began the first dance residency with dancer Alyssa Junious.
Hart has self-produced multiple shows, and worked for many years producing a Fringe Festival at the GPTC.
“Studying how to make live theater during a pandemic was not what I set out in graduate school to do,” Hart said. “However, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in school during that time. It served as a crucible to not only my artistic practice, but my thinking on how to keep live performance relevant to our communities as we move forward.”
These are some of the same issues Cabrillo Stage has been focusing on. They arose, for instance, in this summer’s production of Grease, which was directed by Nordgren’s daughter, Cassie Nordgren, with musical direction by Nordgren himself. The pair reworked aspects of Grease to make it both more modern and truer to the original stage production.
“Theater is changing quickly,” said Jon Nordgren. “There has been a huge turn towards diversity and ‘cancelation’ of a lot of older shows that are too hurtful to some people. There’s a much more open look at what you can do with theater now.”
The show also brought in more diversity with its casting. Corey Jones, a Black actor and singer who uses a wheelchair, was chosen for the iconic role of the Teen Angel. (Due to health reasons, his role was played by Jennifer Taylor Daniels, a Black woman.) Ella Currie played Sonny, a T-Bird who is usually male.
Currie said it was the director’s idea to change the character’s gender. During cast callbacks, she pulled her aside to ask if she’d be interested in the role.
“I was worried at first,” Currie said. “Given some of the lines Sonny has, how’s he’s usually played … I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of the queer community. I wanted to avoid that.”
Currie praised Cassie Nordgren for her openness and respectfulness in creating the new version of the character.
“Cassie has been absolutely wonderful,” she told GT before Grease opened. “She’s so open to my ideas, we’re always on the same page. I love how we’re taking an opportunity to display the queer experience, especially in an era that was not as accepting.”
John Graulty, Cabrillo College’s dean of Visual, Applied and Performing Arts, is excited to see Hart’s vision for the company unfold.
“Our national search for a new artistic director landed us a bright, young, articulate star in the theater firmament,” he said. “Andrea has the passion and talent to work collaboratively with the Cabrillo Stage team to take the company to even greater levels of success and service to our musical theater-loving community. We are thrilled to welcome her aboard.”
Hart says she hopes to continue growing and developing Cabrillo Stage’s community connections and importance.
“Theatre, by its very nature, is a local endeavor,” she said. “It exists in a particular place and time and it speaks to those who see it in that moment. I want Cabrillo Stage to represent the Monterey Bay community in all of its fullness and to be a place our audiences call home.”
For information, visit cabrillostage.com.