On With the Show
Just as the Norris Center for Performing Arts opens the
curtain on the 2011/2012 season, we talked with executive director James W. Gruessing on everything from his debut at the center to
becoming a “genie.”
How and when did you become involved with the Norris?
JG: I originally became involved with the Norris as a performer back in 2002 for a performance of 1776. I quickly followed that with a performance of Jolly Holly Holiday. In 2004, I received a call asking if I would be interested in directing a show for the Norris Theatre’s Prime Time Players troupe. I was hired to direct the show and then was asked to join as a full-time staff member. I started as the box office manager and then moved quickly into operations and productions and became the artistic director for the center.
I understand you played the Genie in Aladdin at California Adventure for three years and are currently directing a junior version at the Norris.
JG: Yes, I have been playing the Genie since October 2008, so when the opportunity for us to do Disney’s Aladdin Jr. arose, I jumped at the chance to direct the show. In the last few weeks, we have been having one or two guest performers, many of whom perform in Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, come and speak to the kids about life in the professional performers world. Some of our guests have also helped work on character development, improvisation, puppetry and dance. Our students also got to take a day off to play at Disney California Adventure and see a performance of Aladdin there, as well as a special meet-and-greet after the performance.
The Norris offers many productions that cast kids and cater to a younger audience. How did this become a large part of the Norris’ mission?
JG: Theater education has always been a focus of the mission of the Norris since we opened our doors in 1983. The Norris has played home to many of the local high school theater and dance troupes since we opened. As time progressed, it was the hope of our founders that we could take a more prominent role in educating our young people, not only about acting but voice, dance and other disciplines as well. Over the years, our education department has grown to a wonderful size of approximately 900 students per year.
In addition to attending shows, how can the community lend its support to the Norris?
JG: Obviously attending shows is the number one way to support live theater, but donations are also greatly appreciated, as well as corporate gifts. We have a wonderful volunteer program here at the Norris which helps, and we truly value all the dedicated men and women who serve as ushers, operators, stage door monitors and attendants.
How would you describe the overall theater scene in the South Bay?
JG: There are many options for theater, not only in the South Bay but also the greater LA area. We have such a vast and dynamic range of programs here in the South Bay cities that I think it is important to note that we are not in competition. I like to think there is room to support all of us, and each company is carving out their niche in the area.