Running The Show
CPCC’s Tom Hollis gathers key players to create a sizzling summer theater series.
by Vanessa Infanzon
Tom Hollis produces five shows in nine weeks each summer at Central Piedmont Community College. As program chair for drama and visual and performing arts, Hollis has been at it for 15 of his 36 years at the school. Some of his favorite shows have included Mama Mia, Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, all performed in the college’s Pease Auditorium, which was recently torn down. Theatergoers can expect a new 400-seat auditorium in 2022, part of a new $113 million library and student-center complex.
Summer stock, as it’s commonly referred to, depends on what the department has on hand: Hollis and his crew reuse sets, costumes and props from previous shows. When possible, even actors are recycled for shows. This year, it will take 75 actors and technicians to produce Show Boat, Jekyll & Hyde, Madagascar —A Musical Adventure, Beehive: The ’60s Musical and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in the 1,020-seat Dale F. Halton Theater on CPCC’s main campus.
Comments were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
How do you choose the shows for the summer series?
It’s a collaborative process. Full-time staff, our adjuncts, professors, other directors, designers and costumers make suggestions. And then we sit down and start looking at what other theaters here in Charlotte have been doing in the last five years. We coordinate with the other theaters to make sure that we’re not all doing the same thing. Then we just kind of throw it all in the hopper and see what happens.
Which show might surprise guests this year?
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a very different musical — it’s an Edwardian farce put to music. It’s based on a [1949 British] movie called Kind Hearts and Coronets. The gimmick is that you have one actor who plays all the murder victims. He’s killed eight times. He’s always playing different members of the same family. The storyline is about a young man who is ninth in line to be an earl. By accident, the first person in his way dies, and it gives him the idea that if the others were dead, he could be earl. So, it becomes the story of him bumping off all these people.
Will there be many familiar faces?
All 100% this year are from Charlotte. We have quite a strong talent pool. We have a lot of young people, students here at the college and kids from the local community. We’ve got kids that have started with us at 7 or 8 years old, stay with us until they’re in college and then move on for their professional careers.
How do you know if you’ve done a good job?
I sit and listen to the audience to see if my prediction of how [they] would react at a given moment was correct. I learn a lot from the audiences’ reactions. Are they seeing what I wanted them to see? Are they focusing in on what we wanted them to understand at any one given moment?
Have you changed your teaching methods for a younger generation?
I try not to. I’m becoming the old guy. The craft that we’re practicing is 2,000 years old, and what an actor was doing on the Greek stage and what an actor is doing today still involves the same processes. While the technology has grown, and we’re using projections and lasers and fancy lights that move themselves and all the other stuff, when you get down to what the actor’s job is, it’s still the same. It’s a discipline that they have to learn. SP
Central Piedmont Community College’s 2019 Summer Theatre season kicks off with Show Boat, which runs June 7-15 at the Halton Theater at CPCC’s downtown campus. Tickets start at $10. tix.cpcc.edu