“Tuna” Next Up On Waldron Stage

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Scott Treadway, Ginger Poole and Mike Edwards bring Greater Tuna to the Waldron Stage.
Scott Treadway, Ginger Poole and Mike Edwards bring Greater Tuna to the Waldron Stage.

by Gene Marrano

While the Trinkle main stage at Mill Mountain Theatre may still be dark – silenced first by financial problems and then by renovations at Center in the Square – the more intimate Waldron Stage on Church St. is gearing up for a third production. “Greater Tuna,” a two man tour-de-force with 21 characters and many, many costume changes, comes to the refurbished Waldron Stage March 21-April 1. It’s also a return to Roanoke for former producing artistic director Scott Treadway, who left Mill Mountain after less than a year in that position, returning to North Carolina for family reasons.

Treadway returns as one of the two actors in Greater Tuna, a comedy that details the goings-on in a fictional Texas town. The other actor is Orlando-based Mike Edwards, who has performed Greater Tuna with Treadway in a number of venues. The play itself dates back to the 1970’s and is one of the most produced works ever. Directing is Ginger Poole, Mill Mountain’s managing director and director of education – currently the only full time employee at Mill Mountain.

Poole said Treadway’s position won’t be filled right away: “our next move is a director of development, [at least] for the next several months until Center in the Square finishes its renovations.” That’s slated to happen in December 2012.  A new executive or artistic director could be hired early next year, according to Poole.

The Trinkle main stage “will be the first to get the thumbs-up to move back into Center in the Square,” said Poole, a veteran play director who also runs acting and dance camps for children and adults. Directing a play like Greater Tuna “is a challenge,” but Edwards and Treadway have helped make it easier for Poole.

The Waldron refurbishing (it seats about 120) came with new lighting, new risers for chairs and renovated office space. Poole and company moved back in October; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and The Arctic Circle, which came from the Hollins University playwright program, preceded Greater Tuna. “Our future is collaboration,” said Poole of The Arctic Circle; she expects more Hollins productions on the Waldron Stage in the future. “That’s the future for the arts – we can’t survive [otherwise].”

Expect a sleeker, slimmer, smarter Mill Mountain when the main stage returns – but not less ambitious, according to Poole. There will be fewer productions (around six per year) and a definitive dark period over the summer. There may be co-productions with other theater companies as well. “It was crazy towards the end,” Poole recalls of the time before Mill Mountain shut down in 2009, “we were doing about twelve productions a year, with a staff of 23.” Expect a full time staff closer to 6-7 people this time around.

Edwards said he is fortunate to be working again with Treadway in Greater Tuna, which they first performed together back in 1991. “It keeps cycling back to us,” said the full time actor/director. Five dressers will help Edwards and Treadway into costume for their 21 characters; some of those changes occur in as little as 11 seconds. “It’s pretty magical,” marvels Poole.

Greater Tuna details a day in the life after a judge has died. How people react to that – and to who did the judge in – are the play’s focus. There’s someone with “a dog problem,” radio station DJs that keep the townsfolk informed and assorted other colorful personalities.  Treadway said Greater Tuna could in fact to be about “your family. I see my own family in this.” Being in the cozy Waldron space is “perfect,” according to Treadway: “we’re right there in [people’s] laps.”

Treadway also called the decision to leave Roanoke “agony,” adding that he was “thrilled to be back.” He had been to Roanoke as an actor once before, in a children’s production (at the Performing Arts Theatre), what he called “the worst show in the history of earth.”

Edwards said he and Treadway have their timing down to a science – important since the other actor may be off stage doing a quick change. They’ve also done a “Tuna Christmas” play seven times. “They’re real people – just a little bizarre,” adds Edwards of Greater Tuna.

There are a number of venues for live plays in Roanoke now but Poole is okay with the competition: “the more exposure that we as an arts community give [to the public] the better.” The granddaddy of them all – the Trinkle main stage – could be back on-line later this year. “We’re getting close,” said Poole, “I’m ready to see this [through] to the end.” See millmountain.org or call 342-5749 for more about Greater Tuna, March 21-April 1 on the Waldron Stage. Adult tickets are $25.