The Western Stage Theatre Will Bid Farewell to Artistic Director of Two Decades. Jon Selover to Retire in December
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / PRURGENT
The Western Stage theatre company, a nationally recognized community-based theatre at Hartnell College in Salinas, has seen major changes in recent years ? from a box office renovation to the shock of a global pandemic.
But those pale next to the imminent departure of Artistic Director Jon Selover, whose Western Stage career spans 36 years, including the past 19 years in his current role.
Selover, who quietly gave notice last year, will retire in December after working this year with the company’s longtime artistic program director, Melissa Chin-Parker, to navigate the storm of COVID-19.
The Western Stage has shifted its entire 2020 theatrical season to 2021, with performance rights secured, casting complete and rehearsals scheduled. Hartnell is still determining how and when to transition Selover’s duties over the near and long term.
Selover first joined The Western Stage in 1984 as an actor after completing his bachelor’s degree in speech and drama at California State University, Chico. He returned two years later while earning his Master of Fine Arts in directing from San Jose State University. He was production stage manager for several years until becoming an associate director of TWS in 1988. He has directed more than 60 productions since then.
“We are all fortunate to have individuals like Jon Selover make a lifelong career in the arts,” said Hartnell Governing Board President Aurelio Salazar Jr. “Theatre is among our oldest and greatest traditions, and Jon has truly helped preserve and elevate this special part of American culture.”
Selover served with the first two artistic directors of The Western Stage, Ron Danko and Tom Humphrey, before himself becoming the third and longest serving.
His final artistic contribution to the company was 2019’s “Of Mice and Men, A Musical Drama,” an archived work that hadn’t been staged since its original Off-Broadway run in 1958.
Among only a few theatrical adaptations of John Steinbeck’s work, including several that originated Western Stage, the original production won the late author’s heartfelt approval. The revival held personal significance for Selover because “Of Mice and Men” was presented in 1984, Selover’s first at The Western Stage, when he fondly played the role of Carlson.
Adapting to retain audiences
Selover became the TWS artistic director in 2002, a time when many theatre companies across the country were in crisis. Audiences were aging and shrinking. He saw the future of The Western Stage in programs and productions that were more closely tied to the Salinas Valley history and people of the Hartnell Community College District, in particular its predominantly Latinx students.
“This was the challenge — my challenge, our challenge,” Selover said. “I realized that The Western Stage needed as many welcoming points of entry as possible. Audiences need to see people onstage they recognize, telling stories that they can relate to.”
He sought to include more relevant content in its programs and productions to bring a more diverse audience into the theater; diversity in age, ethnicity, and sensibility. “Rain of Gold” (2003), “La Llorona” (2008), “Anna in the Tropics” (2009), “A Mexican Christmas Carol,” (2010) “Let the Eagle Fly” (2011), “Zoot Suit” (2013), “Tortilla Curtain” and “Corridos” (2015), and “In the Heights” (2017) are just a few of the examples of TWS’ commitment to reaching the Latinx community.
During Selover’s tenure, the company also has opened up channels of communication by using extensive surveys to gather audience feedback and respond with selection of works in upcoming seasons.
In 2010, he was determined to create a way for college-aged theatre students to create the works they wanted with minimal censoring and guidance in how to do theatre, not what to do. Selover achieved this with the creation of the annual 2x4 BASH, a summer repertory program run entirely by the students with the availability of TWS’ venue, resources, and mentorship. In its 10th-anniversary season, the 2x4 BASH adapted to the shelter-in-place order this summer by creating an entirely original online streaming production.
“Every year they blow me away with their incredible creativity,” Selover said of the 2x4 BASH. “This is among my proudest accomplishments as artistic director.”
Strong ties to Western Stage alums
TWS long-time company member Reg Huston said one of the most inspiring aspects of Selover’s many contributions has been a “commitment to bringing families and community together.”
“The outreach of TWS has been incredible and far reaching,” Huston said. “Youth programs that have been initiated set the stage, as it were, for expressive, future generations.”
The Western Stage shows great pride in its alumni, especially those who came in as young actors, “grew up” through TWS programming and continued on to lucrative careers in the arts. One oft-touted example is Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who credits his trajectory to his high school years as a backstage crew member and young actor at The Western Stage. Many alumni recall The Western Stage as a place to nurture creativity, where opportunities are available to anyone willing to take up the challenge.
Chin-Parker, in her current role since 2001, said Selover has managed to “push the boundaries and move the needle for participants and audience members alike,” while also being mindful of keeping the company viable for the long haul.
“Jon’s years as artistic director can be characterized by ensuring stability in the face of significant and potentially devastating changes and challenges to the program,” she said, “while maintaining high ideals for continued excellence and providing a safe place for artists to discover, grow and return.”
‘I am tremendously grateful’
The two were TWS staff colleagues before both were promoted from within the company, him as producing director and she as associate artistic director.
“That working relationship deepened through the years,” Chin-Parker said. “We have complimentary temperaments: Jon’s a very private person who keeps his passions close to his vest, whereas I tend more towards the proverbial heart-on-my-sleeve type of person.
“But over the years we’ve served as one or the other for each other. I’ve been able to continue my growth as an artist and to create many new projects and programs with Jon’s support, and that kind of confidence and loyalty is priceless in any partnership.”
Said Selover, “I am tremendously grateful for my time here — such fulfilling and meaningful work on such wonderful theatrical projects. And working with so many amazing people. That’s what really marks my time here, the people.”
ABOUT THE WESTERN STAGE
Founded in 1974, The Western Stage (TWS) has evolved over the past four decades into one of the most respected community-based theatres on California’s Central Coast. TWS is committed to enriching the culture of its community by bringing together professional artists, theatre students and community members to produce a dynamic season of plays that enhances the lives of both the artist and audience, developing new works that speak to the history and culture of the Salinas Valley and providing educational opportunities that allow students of all skill levels to explore and develop their unique talents. www.westernstage.com