Louis E. Catron
"Curtain Call"
From the November 1, 2001
issue of The William and Mary News

 

                             Curtain Call
 

                             When the curtain came down on Kiss Me, Kate Oct. 21 it marked the end
                             of a great run for Professor of Theatre and frequent mainstage director Louis E. 
                             Catron.

                                                Lou Catron on Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall's main stage. 
                                                  Photo by Jackson Sasser. 

                           Theatre professor and director Louis Catron tried to approach
                            his recent run of Kiss Me, Kate just like one of its songs:
                            “Another Opnin’, Another  Show.” And it worked—for a
                            while.

                             “On Sunday afternoon--our last show--a boulder hit me from above,”
                            Catron said of his last William and Mary Theatre production,
                            which closed on Oct. 21. “My mind was hitting all the ‘last times,’ and I wasn’t
                            liking it.  I kept thinking 'this is the last time..' for this and that, and it was a series 
                            of emotions that were hard to take."

                            At the final curtain call of the final production, the cast surprised Catron by calling
                            him up on stage to take bows.  "I had no idea they were planning that," Catron
                            says.  "I would have told them, 'no way!'"

                            He received a standing ovation from the full house. 

                            "I needed Kleenex," he said.  "Not just one.  A box."

                             Catron, who has taught at the College since 1966, feels that the end of this
                             year will be the right time to retire. Theater people are a superstitious group,
                             he explains, citing examples of the refusal to call Shakespeare’s Macbeth by
                             its name in a theater, or the need to always leave a light on in the theater to
                             scare away the ghost.

                            “Theater’s a chancy job, and as a director, we’re bound to bomb. I don’t think
                             I’ve ever bombed here—other people might tell you differently,” Catron said
                             with a laugh. “I increasingly started having the ‘is this the one?’ thought. It
                             got to be a lurking hyena.” 

                             Catron’s efforts to avoid bombs didn’t mean avoiding risk—he has directed an
                             impressive range of productions during his career. After arriving at William and
                             Mary during the Vietnam War, Catron directed “avant-garde plays, angry
                             plays, anti-war plays.” He got into musicals a few years later when the faculty
                             member previously responsible for directing them resigned.

                             “And I stupidly said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Catron recalled. “There was a lot to learn.”

                             Catron came to enjoy the challenge of musicals, which he calls “phenomenally
                             more difficult” than plays to direct. Kiss Me, Kate garnered positive reviews,
                             received standing ovations, and some audience members favorably compared 
                             his production to the recent  Broadway revival.

                             According to Catron, the secret to a successful production is selecting actors
                             that will create a cohesive group. “I try to put together people with talent
                             who will make an ensemble. When that ensemble happens in theater, we all know
                             it’s happening,” he explained. 

                             For Catron, the greatest excitement in directing is watching the play progress
                             from its first rehearsal, “when it’s pretty awful,” to the final curtain. An
                             especially enjoyable part of that process for Catron is watching his actors
                             grow into their roles.

                             “When you have an individual actor cast well over his head, and he rises to it,
                             you think, ‘Wow, that’s exciting,’ and then you get to see the smile on that
                             actor’s face, a smile of recognition that 'yes, I can!'” Catron said.  "That's
                             immensely rewarding."

                             And some actors, like an incredibly poised freshman he now calls “Glenny,”
                             were more mature when they first entered Phi Beta Kappa Hall. “Jerry Bledsoe
                             and I, who worked with Glenn [Close], can’t take any credit for her
                             success—but we enjoy trying,” said Catron, who is equally proud of the
                             actors, producers and screenwriters among his former students.

                             Nurturing such talents made teaching a natural fit for Catron. “I can’t imagine
                             any other job I would have enjoyed as much,” he said. “It’s an incredibly
                             beautiful thing to do with one’s life.” 

                             Catron wasn’t planning on a stage career until his junior year in college, when
                             he “discovered theater” and began “an intense love affair,” as he described it.
                             “I was blessed with a large number of great roles, but wise enough to realize I
                             was a big fish in a little pond, and professional acting is the Pacific Ocean.”

                             Instead, Catron discovered directing and teaching.

                             “A director is a teacher who teaches the cast,” explained Catron, who came
                             to the College directly following his Ph.D. program. Of three offers presented
                             to him, his major professor, Chris Moe ’51, urged him to take the offer from
                             William and Mary.  He later discovered Moe had been offered the position.

                             “It took a year or two to realize Chris had sent me in his place, and it was kind of
                             emotional,” Catron said.

                             He had been teaching at the College for a few years before he discovered
                             some graffiti on a bulletin board in Phi Beta Kappa Hall: “Sooner or later, all the
                             best people come to PBK.” It’s a statement Catron agrees with, and one of
                             the major reasons he’s been at the College for 36 years.

                             “I stay here because of the students. There’s a human quality—they’re people with
                             good hearts. We’ve got kids here doing grad-level work, wanting bigger
                             challenges, hungry for criticism. There’s a strength and pride in achievement
                             that’s pretty remarkable. The challenge they present to us the faculty is to
                             keep raising the bar--carefully, yes, but  up,” Catron said. 

                             Catron will pursue some writing projects during his retirement—not surprising
                             for someone who was a newspaper and broadcasting reporter before turning
                             to a teaching career. “I’ve always thought that when I burn out on teaching
                             I’ll go back to newspapers,” Catron said. “But I never burned out.” 

                                                                              by Maria Hegstad 
                                                                               University Relations Intern 
 

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