After 38 years in the classroom (five at Weber High School and 33 at Weber State College), Dr. T. Leonard Rowley doesn't appear to have any "opening night jitters" as the curtain goes up on the next phase of his life - retirement.
As outgoing Performing Arts Series manager at WSC (with stints as professor, head of the theater department, managing director of the Utah Musical Theatre series and other related work along the way), he's had his share of opening nights.There've also been some memorable productions and personally satisfying moments during that time - along with time out for an intensive, invigorating year in Minneapolis, Minn., and one theater-hopping summer in New York City.
Rowley founded what eventually became the annual Utah Musical Theatre series and was part of the team that created one of the finest collegiate performing arts facilities in the Western states.
But this past week, in his book-filled office tucked away in the northeast corner of the impressive Val A. Browning Center for the Performing Arts on the WSC campus, Rowley was brimming with enthusiasm over the prospects ahead as he prepares to clean out his desk and put the day-to-day academic life behind him.
Rowley has always loved and enjoyed the arts. He grew up in Parowan, a pioneer Utah settlement colonized by families hand-picked by Brigham Young. They were artisans, craftsmen, actors and musicians - giving the community a rich cultural heritage. Rowley's grandfather was both an actor and a musician.
(One of Rowley's fellow thespians has roots in this same environment - Fred C. Adams, founder and director of the prestigious Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City.)
One of Rowley's finest achievements during his tenure at WSC was a program that many consider to be the musical counterpart of the Cedar City festival - the annual Utah Musical Theatre series, which is winding up its eighth season in its present format this month.
Under Rowley's careful, nurturing hand, summer theater in Ogden has made impressive growth in the past 35 years. Rowley presented what is believed to have been Ogden's first summer theater production back in 1953 - a children's production of "Jack and the Beanstalk" on stage at Weber High School, where he was teaching speech and drama at the time.
Like Jack's beanstalk, summer theater in Ogden took root and continued to flourish. There were a few fits and starts along the way as Rowley and his staff experimented with various formats in search of the right formula.
For a couple of seasons they tried Greek theater, but that was not well attended. Then they tried a mix of one classic, one contemporary and one musical.
"The modern play would be fairly well attended, the classic would be shunned and the musical would sell out - so about then we began thinking of moving toward all musicals," he said.
They gave the program a name - the Golden Spike Repertory Theatre - "theatre" because they didn't want to restrict themselves to just musicals and "repertory" because that's how they were being presented.
But repertory, with plays rotating on successive nights, doesn't work well with musicals. It's just too difficult to strike the sets every night and get ready for an entirely new production the next day.
So, eight years ago, the name was changed to Utah Musical Theatre.
"When we first renamed it, I said we'd give it 10 years and if it hadn't come of age by then it was never going to succeed. I think this year it came of age - two years ahead of schedule - and I think Utah Musical Theatre has a gorgeous future," he said.
Rowley stayed with UMT as managing director for three years, until he was sure it was on its feet, then he turned the reigns over to Ronald Ladwig, who headed it for three more years, followed by Scott Jensen the past two seasons. Rowley preferred spending more time in academics.
"I always wanted to be a teacher," he said, and he has thoroughly enjoyed being in the classroom.
UMT's reputation also has grown the past few seasons. At first, it involved mostly local and regional people - many recruited when Rowley attended the annual spring Rocky Mountain Theatre Conference meetings. Then guest directors and professionals from across the country were brought in, and now it's reached the point where performers and support staff are writing and calling WSC to inquire about getting involved.
Chicagoan M. Seth Reines was UMT's artistic director for a couple of seasons. "He brought a sense of professionalism to UMT that we didn't have before," said Rowley. (Reines was scheduled to return this season, too, but got a terrific offer in Chicago that he couldn't refuse.)
Rowley's excited about UMT's prospects under a new musical-theater faculty member just hired for the WSC staff. James Christian, currently working in San Diego, "is young, vital and very good. . . . He'll be able to build on what Seth has established."
Christian will be managing director of UMT and a full-time faculty member.
Community support for the summer theater series has also ebbed and flowed. Initially, there was a great deal, then later almost all of the support was at the college level, but now UMT has a very community-oriented board of directors and there's a great deal of civic pride.
"It's almost like Ogdenites are saying, `This is something that belongs to us,' and I'll be tickled to death when the community begins to feel extremely possessive of it," Rowley said.
Rowley's also pleased with the growth of UMT's apprentice program.
"At first we called it The Young Company, but we got some flak from BYU, so we changed ours to The Apprentice Company," he said. The program started out with the students paying tuition, and now they're not only given scholarships but are paid a stipend to help with their living expenses.
Rowley originally planned on pursuing a career in business and first earned a business degree at the Branch Agricultural College (now Southern Utah State College), with time out for "voluntary induction" into the Air Force. (The infamous attack on Pearl Harbor occurred during his senior year of high school.)
After attending BAC, he served a mission for the LDS Church, but by that time he had decided that he really couldn't face a lifetime of adding columns of figures. So when he returned home from his mission, he changed direction - majoring in theater instead.
After graduating from BYU, he began teaching speech and drama at Weber High School in 1950. Then, for the next five summers, he worked on his master's degree, minoring in theater and majoring in secondary education. In 1955 he joined the faculty of Weber State College - at that time it was comprised of the "upper campus" (three one-story buildings just above Harrison Boulevard) and the old "lower campus," what was formerly Weber Stake Academy in downtown Ogden.
Rowley said it's been exciting to see the campus develop almost from scratch, using a well-designed master plan. And one integral part of the campus was the planning of the college's performing arts center. A team representing the various performing arts groups visited several theater complexes around the region and came up with what still stands as one of the most efficiently and attractively designed theaters in the West. It contains three theaters and ample classroom and rehearsal space.
In the early 1970s, Rowley took sabbatical leave to pursue his doctorate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
"That was a tremendous experience," said Rowley. Tyrone Guthrie was living there at the time and participated in seminars and workshops. Playwright Arthur Miller also met with the students, and it was an exciting educational experience. At this time, Rowley was majoring in theater arts and minoring in higher education.
In addition to teaching drama, speech, directing and acting, he's also mounted many productions.
One of his earliest dramas - Miller's classic "Death of a Salesman" - was performed on the stage of the old Moench Building, former lower campus library that had been converted into a theater and had no fly space and very little wing space. But Rowley still considers "Salesman" as "one of the best plays I've ever done."
"What I'd like to do now," Rowley said, "is play Willie Loman."
Rowley is leaving the campus with 33 years of fond memories - including directing the first Broadway musical in Ogden ("Show Boat" in 1960), "The Prime of Miss Jean Brody" ("I was very proud of that one"), and memorable productions of such topical and contemporary works as "Death of a Salesman" and "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds."
His last show, "The Diviners," is one that "will stay with me for a long, long time. I had good people working with me, and it was a learning experience for all of us."
His favorite musicals include "The Sound of Music" (the first in Utah after the rights became available - with Baroness Von Trapp making a personal appearance on campus shortly before it opened), "The Music Man" (with author-composer Meredith Willson visiting Ogden and marching smartly down Washington Boulevard with trombones blaring right behind), and "The Man of La Mancha" ("because it was not the traditional `musical' - it had much, much more substance to it").
Growing up in Parowan, Rowley said he never felt he was culturally deprived. "In fact, I feel I got more of a cultural background in that little town than a lot of people who live right here in Ogden."
Later, when he spent eight weeks writing reviews on 52 stage productions in New York City, he discovered that "probably 48 of them were not as good as quality of the kind you can see out here. Of course, the other four would just knock you off your pedestal, but I came to respect the quality we have here in Utah a great deal."
During that New York sojourn, Rowley also managed to get in some ballet and symphony concerts as well.
"I saw a production of `Giselle' by a Parisian company at Lincoln Center, and about halfway through I realized that I was seeing something that was not one bit better than Ballet West. Right here in my back yard is a company that is just as good as this imported company that had been receiving great publicity in New York. It was then that I decided that I would not miss a year of being a season subscriber to our own ballet. I think our attitude out here defeats us a lot."
Although Rowley is retiring, he's not going to just settle back and be lazy. He's got a couple of play writing projects in the hopper - one the reworking of a plot he discovered while researching a play he was directing in Alaska (right now his wife says its more like a mini-series and will probably take a year to pare down) and the other is a "Children's Hour" approach to child abuse and character assassination.
You won't find Dr. T. Leonard Rowley in the classroom this fall at Weber State College - but you might bump into him in the audiences at stage productions, concerts and ballet performances.
And next time the curtain goes up on a WSC play or musical, the opening night jitters will be somebody else's.