The stickiness is his friendliness, and his enthusiasm that local artists enjoy as he talks about how he wants to be part of the arts community and make a place for new shows to develop.
Stern is artistic director for
He has been on the job for nearly a year and has already become known in local arts circles as a connector.
That's a new function for The American.
Stern, 47, replaced
Curry built a following for his mix of emerging, national and international performers. Stern's first season at The American featured Curry's choices, since seasons are typically booked ahead.
Stern recently released the 2014-15 season, the first with his stamp on it. The lineup retained an eclectic mix of folk, dance, theater, classical, jazz, world music and more.
While the blend may seem familiar, many of the 26 or so premier acts are new to The American, from the
The season opens
A new category of offerings also starts in the fall. Stern calls it the Lighthouse series, because the city theater is offering a beacon of hope to the regional arts community -- hope that new works might be presented at The American, then get sent out and seen beyond
For Stern, it's all about family.
As it happens, Stern was the only person in his family to pursue the arts. He auditioned for his first show around age 9.
He grew up in
From age 13 to 18, he spent his summers camped out at Wayside, learning alongside accomplished directors, designers and performers.
He had never been much of an athlete. Stern is a big guy -- 6 feet tall -- with a big personality who will tell a tale about himself, then laugh about it.
As a kid, he played on a baseball team but was afraid of the ball. He remembered swinging at two pitches and missing, then hearing a mother holler from the stands, "Oh for God's sake, throw it to him underhanded!"
Theater is where he found his tribe.
Stern studied theatrical design and production at
The long hours required in film work caused problems in his new marriage, so he quit that gig and became a radio personality and a freelance producer and director.
In 2001, he took a job as manager of
"When the taxpayers are funding you, it's a little different than getting a grant or a corporate donor. Taxpayers take it personally and give you feedback."
Which is fine by him. "I like serving the public."
That's what attracted him to Hampton.
Stern said he made a point last year of attending arts events in this region and meeting with creative sorts.
With a 400-seat facility, "we have a unique opportunity," he said last week in his office at the rear of the theater, which is set on a quaint stretch in the
"I have some concept stuff I want to try," said
Mullins said he's excited that Stern is creating a place where new works can be developed. "I think it's outside of the box of what we've seen before" in this area.
Stern has created a slot for the "All the Way LIVE!" talent show for locals, which also will feature professionals. The family-friendly variety show will take place on the first Wednesday of each month starting
Also new is a film series, led by locals who are suggesting titles.
As for developing scripts, The American has already staged a workshop production. On
This season The American will present free shows provided by The Venue on the first Sunday of every month, at
Few theaters nationwide solicit fresh scripts. In most cases, a writer cannot submit his own work; only an agent or a "theater professional" can enter plays. Stern told Wray that he would be willing to stage local scripts he felt were ready for a bigger market and a professional production.
"It's exciting that maybe now through Jeff we might be able to get introduced" to the larger theater world. "Before, we didn't have a chance," Wray said. "It's put a fire under all of us, as writers."
All of this community activity at The American is serving Stern's goals, too.
More than 75 percent of the audience for the
"I could sit here and do my entire series on the phone or on the website. But, for me, if I'm not talking to local artists, I don't feel a part of the community.
"It's that whole family thing. I really like to feel a part of the arts family here. I really desire that personally. It's not driven by some master plan to raise ticket sales. It's just, I'm very inspired when I talk to artists.
"It's way more fun."
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