EMAV 10 Bites: Ralph Stalter, Jr. - EMAV, Valley Theatre Awards Coordinator

Updated: Mar 9, 2019

In every neighborhood, there is someone who makes the Arts a part of their life, and our community. You'd be surprised to discover how many different people use the arts to improve the quality of life in or hometown. EAT MORE ART! VEGAS will feature them regularly in our series "10 Bites."

What performing art do you do?

I cut my teeth as an actor in the theatre over fifty years ago and have been expanding my knowledge and experience as a performing arts administrator, consultant and “Cultural Provocateur” ever since.

Why do you do it?

I started singing in my church choir around the age of 10, and found that I loved making music, singing harmonies, playing with counter-melodies -- and developed a sense of musicality, aural awareness and performance well before high school.

In high school, I had an incredible choral instructor/theatre director who cast me in the role of Prince Chulalongkorn in THE KING AND I. That was my baptism by fire! My next challenge was dancing the sword dance in BRIGADOON – then performing in every high school musical and play.

Once organic chemistry and calculus dashed my pursuit of an early medical career in college, I took a hard left into the theatre. I dove into acting, directing and producing at every opportunity. After graduation, determined to get into a professional training program, I auditioned for Temple, Yale and Boston University!

Boston University's School of Theatre put me in the hands of three of America's most gifted and respected professional theatre directors:

  • Zelda Fichandler: Co-founder and producing director of Arena Stage, one of the first nonprofit professional theatres in the U.S., which received the TONY Award in 1976 (the first to be given to a company outside of NYC).

  • Word Baker: the director who set THE FANTASTICKS spinning into theatre history as the world's longest-running musical!

  • Alan Schneider: responsible for introducing American audiences to playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, Michael Weller, Harold Pinter and Bertolt Brecht.

Alan was the one who urged me to attend the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) Apprentice Program after grad school. I was cast in the opening production that 1975 season: RING ROUND THE MOON, directed by Nikos Psacharopoulos, starring Frank Langella, Blythe Danner, Mildred Dunnock, Louis Beachner, Joseph Maher, with sets by Tony Straiges and costumes by Carrie F. Robbins.

After that summer, I never had a doubt about pursuing my career in the theatre – though I always expected to be on the stage side of the curtain!

Right about that time, The Historic Palace Theatre in Manchester, NH, was going through structural and aesthetic renovations: new orchestra seating was installed and it was re-opened as a restored 880-seat nonprofit, professional performing arts center. Among its many programs, The Palace hosted the Phoenix Stage Ensemble, NH Shakespeare Company, and Merrimack Valley Music Theatre – and I was a member of those resident acting companies for two seasons. During my tenure, I came to know many of the Board members, who had always been committed to achieving their mission through preserving the historic facility, responding creatively to the cultural and entertainment needs of the community and governing in a fiscally responsible and strategic manner.

I was approached by several Board members to consider stepping into the Executive Director role when it became vacant. What a novel idea (I thought) -- a regular paycheck with health insurance and vacation benefits, and I still get to work with the resident companies and other performing arts professionals! I naively accepted the challenge of “caregiving” the arts and an historic theatre facility.

That initial on-the-job training was certainly perplexing at times but I loved it. I learned to manage and motivate employees and volunteers not drawn to their jobs by year-end bonuses, and how to engage people, build consensus and raise money. After a few stressful years I had an “Aha!” moment. My skills could actually be put to better use on the administrative side of the curtain.

I knew there was more to theatre management, so I enrolled in the graduate Arts Administration Program at Columbia University. My classmates worked in diverse international arts organizations: opera and dance companies, auction houses, advocacy organizations, government ministries, community arts organizations, galleries and museums; in fundraising and development, marketing, education, programming, and executive or operational roles.

I was fortunate to land a marketing internship with 42nd Street Development Corporation on "Theatre Row": a collection of (then) newly renovated historic theatres in Times Square, New York, including The Acorn Theatre, The Beckett Theatre, The Clurman Theatre, The Kirk Theatre, The Lion Theatre, and The Studio Theatre. Andre Bishop, artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater and one of the founders of Playwrights Horizons marveled at the developments. ''This story is so small time,'' he said, ''Modest theaters, modest budgets, modest aspirations, but big time in terms of human richness. Urban renewal was the last thing on our minds.''

I still get a huge thrill in sharing that “human richness” of live, performing arts programming with audiences. That “joy” is a driving force in my nature. In addition, my deepest and closest friendships are those I’ve made through the Arts.

Why do I do it? Caregiving, joy and friendship are three pretty good reasons, wouldn’t you say?

What’s your favorite production/performance so far?

SAVAGES, a play written by Christopher Hampton, presented by Williamstown Theatre Festival, summer 1975. Hampton was inspired to write this play by a newspaper article titled "Genocide" by Norman Lewis in the Sunday Times (February, 1969) which dealt with the systematic extermination of Brazil's Indians ranging from the 16th century to the present day.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

  • Lifeguard; autopsy technician (the one that takes the organs out of the body cavity for the pathologist); retail jewelry sales; individual, group and subscription ticket sales; customer support specialist; technology implementation and training consultant.

  • Project Coordinator for the interior renovation of 2 landmark theatres on the National Register of Historic Places, which increased seating capacity, earned income and audience comfort.

  • Collective bargaining team member with the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) during sessions with Actors’ Equity Association.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

Actually, this year’s 4th Annual Las Vegas Valley Theatre Awards (July 25th) was truly a highlight for me! Having only relocated to Las Vegas seven years ago, it was heartening to have so many wonderfully talented performers, producers, Board members, volunteers and new-found friends join in making this celebration of the performing arts such a resounding success. As Paul Atreides wrote: "The event is all about 'local' talent, but still... I found myself thinking, “If only Sandy Kastel and Paige O’Hara (two of our Presenters) could’ve been hornswoggled into doing a number. They’re locals!”

What would you be doing if you weren't performing?

Exactly what I’m doing now in “semi-retirement”: actively engaging and working to strengthen, unify and connect the arts and culture sector to foster collaboration, enhance organizational stability, and further build the power of the organizations within their respective communities… Caregiving the Arts!

Name something you love about Las Vegas, and why.

It’s still growing! Along with the sheer number and variety of talented, accessible and friendly artists, producers and staff members – and residents who support the diverse local community arts organizations as donors, audience members and volunteers.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

''It is Sam Beckett more than anyone else who has taught me that in spite of anything or whatever, one goes on. Not distracted or disturbed by success or failure, by surface or show, analysis or abstraction, the criticism or praise of others - or even one's own self-criticism.'' [Alan Schneider, 1917-1984] Or, as my father loved to say: "Illegitimi non carborundum," which may look like Latin, but it doesn't translate exactly to "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down."

What superpower would you have and why?

Animal Communication/Telepathy because I am fascinated by Nature and natural wonders and personally limited as a human being to what I will be able to see and experience throughout my life span. It would be wondrous to be able to expand my knowledge exponentially by being able to “learn” from the animals who inherit all parts of the globe.

Any future projects?

Always open to brain-sailing with others about “unexplored territories” and collaborative performing arts programming!

Are you a local artist of any discipline? Do you work with a company as a designer, stagehand or administrative staff? We'd love to get your 10 Bites to share. Fill out a form here, and you might be featured in a post!


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