Our Hampton Roads Region is rich in diverse, cultural communities and the Virginia Stage Company (VSC), the region’s leading professional theatre company has masterfully crafted the perfect union of these communities with its Public Works initiative to help impact the lives of hundreds of families through their community outreach programs.

The Wells Theatre will be the location the weekend of August 30th, August 31st, and September 1st as more than 50 Hampton Roads artists will present VSC’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest adapted by Patrick Mullins with music by Jake Hull.

We are fortunate to have with us Patrick Mullins, the Director of Public Works with VSC. Patrick also produces the education in community engagement programs. He is originally from Georgia, and first came here about 12 years ago as the Associate Artistic Director for the VSC.

Yiorgo: What is Public Works Virginia?

Patrick Mullins: It is VSC’s wide initiative to make theatre accessible to all people. We offer classes in conjunction with community partners across Hampton Roads. For example Access Virginia helps us reach people with vision limitations and hard of hearing. Our partnership with Chesapeake Parks, Recreation and Tourism allows us to reach a dynamic group of senior citizens in their 55 and over club. We worked with Armed Services in Virginia Beach. They are a group of veterans. We work with partner organizations such as the Norfolk State University Theatre Company who is a producing partner.

Y: Tell us about this summer’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

PM: The Tempest highlights all of our Hampton Roads communities and gives people the opportunity to be a part of a full major stage show with musicians and professional sets. We have over 50 people in the show plus we have several cameo groups with organizations that we have smaller partnerships with such as: Teens With a Purpose, Atumpan Edutainment and Philippine Cultural Center School of Creative and Performing Arts. They have their own performance outlines already and so we have added them as part of the performance. So when you come to see The Tempest, you will see: professional actors from our producing partner Norfolk State University, folks from the general community who auditioned for the show, as well as Jake Hull who wrote music for the Tempest when we did it in the park six years ago. We have revisited that score for this production.

We have brought in puppetry from Paperhand Puppet Intervention from North Carolina, people who speak sign language and happen to be deaf, a couple of blind, vision people, so we have all sorts of beautiful humans working on the show. It’s been a blast and I have learned so much from them. We are all learning from each other, sharing our cultures and heritages and pouring it all into this huge melting pot on stage. After all that’s what the themes in The Tempest are all about. Prospero brings all people together. There is reconciliation, forgiveness and sharing what we have with each other. I’m really excited about how it’s really coming together.

Y: You have cast a female in the role of Prospero.

PM: Yes indeed, our lead role of Prospera, is played by Kimberly Ambrose, the drama teacher at Booker T. High School in Norfolk, Virginia. She blew us all away at the auditions and to have a theatre leader in our community leading the show has been super fun too.

Y: How does one go about choosing to become a director?

PM: Directing chose me I think. My MFA is actually in acting and I rolled into directing, but what that acting training did is gave me a tool box. I was really lucky to have been mentored by really wonderful humans around the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, at the graduate school and other places. Even when I first got here at Virginia Stage, with Chris Hanna and all the other wonderful directors that came through town that I got to assist. I learned a lot through their mentorship and exposure.

For me directing is a heart and a point of view. I was in education and taught High School for seven years. I was also a part-time Methodist Youth Pastor at a church. We took a bunch of kids to a Franklin Covey Leadership conference and they had us compose a mission statement for our life and the mission statement I came up with even though I was a completely different human then I am now was that I wanted to give people experiences that help them see the world differently and that’s kinda what I still do. So weather I am directing the Odd Couple or the Tempest with this beautiful cast, it’s about how do we get the people out of their shells, how do we give them an experience that let’s them see the world from a slightly different place, more empathetic, more open and if nothing else take a deep breath and have a good laugh. My mom always thought that I would be a pastor and I told her a long time ago, ‘Mom I am a Pastor, I just have a different pulpit.’ I’m really lucky and blessed to get to do what I do. To me directing is a craft and I’ve been lucky to learn great tools and skills from other wonderful artists but at the end of the day it’s leading a meaningful journey to create an experience for others.

Y: How about a wow moment?

PM: I’ve been lucky to direct in a lot of diverse places around here and there is this moment when all the people have added their stuff either late in tech or early in previews and everything is firing on all cylinders, and this huge machine that’s way bigger than I could have done by myself is hitting the ground and it’s working, that’s what super exciting to me, it’s that moment every time.

Y: Why was Tempest chosen as the play to do this summer?

PM: It’s a play I know well and I have worked on, most of my life. It has all the complex, problematic themes and a beautiful, generous human, in Prospero/Prospera.

Y: Why should people see this show?

PM: Because to me, it’s all the best things about theatre. It’s about, heart, and community in its purest form. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of spectacle. There is a lot of joy on stage and a lot of beautiful, big puppetry on stage that you don’t get a chance to see in Hampton Roads very often.

In keeping with the goal of making theatre accessible to all people, tickets are free and available on a first come, first serve basis at www.vastage.org 

Yiorgo is a Hampton Roads arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also an educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.

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