Pittsburgh Playhouse Artistic Director Ronald Allan-Lindblom steps down; respected artist, director and educator joins Conservatory faculty
Ronald Allan-Lindblom, artistic director and a driving force behind the success and growth of Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse, officially steps away from his position at the end of the current season and will return to a teaching post within the Conservatory of the Performing Arts this fall. The University is undertaking a national search for his replacement.
Lindblom has held the position of artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playhouse for 20 years. During his career he has produced, directed and acted in hundreds of theatre and dance productions on three continents. He has directed internationally at drama festivals in Shanghai, Edinburgh and Hong Kong. He came to Pittsburgh and Point Park from Los Angeles, where he served as associate artistic producing director and co-founder of California Repertory Company in Long Beach.
“When Ron arrived at Point Park and the Pittsburgh Playhouse two decades ago, it was a different place,” said President Paul Hennigan. “Ron was able to breathe new life into the Playhouse, creating daring, seminal and career-shaping productions that helped develop the Playhouse into the artistic laboratory it is today.”
During Lindblom’s time at Point Park, he helped establish the Conservatory of Performing Arts, The REP, Point Park’s professional theatre company, and Point Park’s cinema department. He has produced over 350 professional and education productions of theatre and dance and has served in numerous positions as chair, dean and vice president at the University. “My time as artistic director has been the second greatest privilege of my life; the first is marrying my wife Penny,” said Lindblom. Married since 1985, Penny Lindblom is a distinguished actor and director and a longtime faculty member at the Conservatory.
Ron Lindblom recently directed the world premiere stage adaptation of the iconic Ernest Hemingway novel The Old Man and The Sea, which premiered in February in the Highmark Theatre at Point Park’s new Pittsburgh Playhouse. The Point talked with Lindblom:
What brought you to Point Park 20 years ago?
RL: What initially intrigued me the most, after seeing the [original] Pittsburgh Playhouse, were the artists that were here at Point Park. So, Penny and I said, ‘Yes, let’s get out of L.A. This sounds interesting.’ That was in 1998. Honestly, when we came to Pittsburgh, I thought I would spend only a few years here. I thought this would be a good launching pad for me to run a big regional theater, or perhaps a Shakespeare festival. But then I fell in love with Pittsburgh, which to me is a cross between Andy Griffith and Andy Warhol. It’s a very unique place! And more importantly, I fell in love with the people; the artists of the Pittsburgh Playhouse. I knew could take these very talented people [and work] around the world. But I thought, if I don’t make this about me, but rather about them, we might be able to build something here that lasts beyond me. I’m proud to say that’s what we’ve been able to create.
What has changed over the past two decades?
I was hired as artistic director of Point Park’s fine and performing arts department in 1998. Within the first six months, however, I recognized what we had here, and I said we should become a conservatory. The number of professional artists [among faculty, staff and guests] at Point Park was more typical of a conservatory model. So, in 1999 we became the Conservatory of Performing Arts. What was originally a single department was turned into a separate school with three departments, including theatre, dance and cinema arts. To put it in perspective, we now have more musical theatre majors than we had students in the entire department when I arrived 20 years ago. We now have two nationally ranked programs [theatre and dance], and the cinema program that I initiated, which was the first digital program in the country, will [eventually] be nationally ranked. We now have a state-of-the-art dance facility [the George Rowland White Performance Center] and of course the new Pittsburgh Playhouse. Our vision for the Playhouse is to become a national artistic laboratory.
Why did you decide to step down as artistic director?
Last July was my 20th anniversary at Point Park, and I feel it’s the right time for me to transition out of my longtime role as artistic director. I am looking forward to retiring from my administrative duties at the University, and spending more time directing, teaching and reconnecting with students at the classroom level. My goal has always been to explore, create and export future generations of artists and entertainment professionals. As I said to President Paul Hennigan, there are no more dance studios to build, and no more Playhouses to build, and I am never going to get to play in this place as long as I’m running it! So, I’m actually looking forward to this new chapter.
As you look back, what are some favorite projects?
There are so many. I’ve acted in, directed or produced 350 productions here in Pittsburgh alone. I think that among the things that are very special and memorable to me are all of the works and time we’ve spent with Robert Miller [director, producer and distinguished visiting artist]. Also, the new works we have been able to do with [alumnus and director] Tome Cousin, as well as the new works The REP created with [playwright] Tammy Ryan. Those were all very special. I look back on the careers we’ve helped to launch, and the guest artists we’ve been able to bring here to the Playhouse. I look back at the people we’ve loved and the people we’ve lost, such as dance professor Ron Tassone. And the students! For example, I remember taking Ryan Stana [founder of RWS Entertainment Group] to the Kennedy Center when he was a Point park student. Now he’s a University trustee, and running a major entertainment organization in New York City. Alumnus John Magaro is now an accomplished stage and screen actor. And just last spring, we handed [acting graduate] Gabe Florentino his COPA diploma, and this spring he was back on stage here as a featured actor in The Old Man and the Sea. The list goes on and on.
How does The Old Man and the Sea fit into the vision for the Playhouse?
The Old Man and the Sea project is a perfect example of the Playhouse as a national artistic laboratory. The production represents the creative efforts of everyone from Point Park students to Tony Award winning guest artist [lead actor Anthony Crivello] and composer and musician Simon Cummings of Cello Fury. We have a cast made up of professional actors, including recent alumni. Point Park cinema students worked on the film and multimedia aspects of the production. Business and communications students worked on everything from ticket sales to marketing and social media. And it’s our first collaboration with the professionals of RWS Entertainment Group. The process of creating this production is what is important. We can create, and eventually export, new works here at the Playhouse that would cost millions of dollars to create and produce in New York. And for me personally, this show represents the first part of my personal transition back to creating and directing new works, which is one of the things I love the most.
What are your hopes for the new Playhouse?
I love the fact that the Playhouse is now part of Downtown Pittsburgh. This new building represents not only what we can become in the future, but also gives the Pittsburgh Playhouse itself another 80 years. We are already doing things, this season, that could never have been have produced at the original Playhouse because we didn’t have the facilities, The Old Man and the Sea being one of them. I have often said that the Playhouse is a hothouse for new works, and now we have the facilities to truly make that happen. There are so many new opportunities to grow, particularly on the technical side of theatre. In the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, we are on the threshold of limitless possibilities, limited only by our collective imaginations. That’s the truth. I really believe that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Interview by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by John Altdorfer
The Point is the magazine of Point Park University