The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts celebrates 20 years of performances.

The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts celebrates 20 years of performances.

by Carolyn Arnold

While chatting with Gary Wood, the new director of the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, about his first semester at Fairfield University, the topic naturally fell to what performances he was looking forward to in the next academic year. He eagerly shared details (see sidebar), but couldn’t divulge one big event because negotiations were not complete. All he would say was that he was thrilled about it and hopefully could announce it soon. In the meantime, he was happy to discuss his first semester at the Quick Center and his hopes for the theater’s continued growth.

“It has been a joy, a complete joy,” Wood said of his new position. “I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be here. The Quick Center has such a great history and I’m coming into a situation where there is such opportunity. It is so wonderful to work for a place that is healthy, has a staff that is so adept at what they do, and has an excellent reputation.”

After 20 years the Quick Center has indeed established itself as a hub of creative and compelling performances. That’s a pretty formidable achievement considering its humble beginnings. It was actually formed almost as an afterthought when it was found to be more cost-effective to create a new Center for the Arts rather than upgrade the intimate Fairfield University Playhouse, now the PepsiCo Theatre.

Tom Zingarelli, the first director of the Quick Center who retired in 2010, recalled the birth of the Center.

“At the time I was the artistic and producing director [of the Playhouse], responsible for six to eight shows a season.” He said that Leslie Quick (P’82, ’79, ’77), the center’s primary benefactor and husband of Regina A. Quick, had attended a performance of Godspell! in which their daughter had a role. Quick expressed interest in helping the Playhouse, and Zingarelli told him that he wanted to cut a hole in the low ceiling to hang lighting instruments higher.

After looking at costs for improvement, Quick ultimately decided that it made more sense to build a new arts center. Zingarelli didn’t mind the change in plans. “Three years and some $7 million later the Quick Center opened. I recall telling the audience at the dedication the story and saying that I never really got what I wanted: a hole in the ceiling to hang some lights. But I was certainly pleased with the consolation prize!”

The new “consolation prize,” went on to host many great performances. Zingarelli recalled standout shows like a solo concert by Itzhak Perlman. “Other notables included Ray Charles, who called me ‘darlin’ the whole evening; Della Reese, who brought brownies; and Leon Redbone, who sat at the piano on stage long after the crew and equipment had departed, giving us a bit of a private concert.”

Some of the most touching performances to Zingarelli over the years included student creations. “Watching each new group of talented and sometimes starry-eyed students as they filled the stages, the gallery, and the support spaces chasing their dreams, I think, are the most indelible memories I’ve taken away with me.”

Since its opening, the center has become known for its casual, elegant design and splendid acoustics. Patrons say that there is not a bad seat in the house and as the years go by the programs continue to expand and cover a variety of genres including theater, music, dance, voice, lectures, readings, student performances, operas, visual arts, galas, and high definition live broadcasts from around the globe.

A theater is only as good as its staff and community support, of course. Both Zingarelli and Wood credited much of the Quick’s success to its dedicated staff, students, and volunteers. And as the reputation of the Quick Center grew, the audience grew as well. The first “mini-season” in 1990 included a total of six events. At its 20th anniversary season, there were hundreds. What began as an experiment in town-and-gown rapport evolved into a relationship of people from surrounding communities, bound by their shared devotion to the arts.

Now in 2011, Wood is excited to continue the Quick’s traditions and help usher it to new levels of success.

Wood came to the Quick after serving as the president and chief executive officer of the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science in Sioux Falls, S.D., which hosts more than 300,000 patrons and approximately 300 annual performing arts events. He also served as president and CEO of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), leading the conservatory for arts education through a redesign of the entire curriculum and performing arts offerings after Hurricane Katrina.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s with an emphasis in woodwind performance and educational practices, he was a music teacher for 10 years before he decided that he wanted to try something new. “I discovered the world of arts administration,” he explained, “and I was fortunate enough to find wonderful positions in that field.”

Wood considers it a mission to provide learning opportunities to patrons, whether they are traditional students or not. As part of Fairfield’s Arts & Minds offerings – to provide the population of southwestern Connecticut with a wide array of opportunities to enjoy the arts and enrich their lives through study and performance, appreciation and thought – Wood said that the Quick Center should play a vital role. “We need to be an exhilarating place of learning. I think that everyone is a learner and seeking something new and fresh. Arts & Minds, to me, suggests that there should be something thought-provoking in every performance.”

That includes offering opportunities for people to experience new things. “Whether people come for enrichment, enlightenment, for the soul or the brain, I hope our audience has faith that they will have a good experience. Even if they’re not a jazz lover, for example, our goal is to continue to develop the reputation that the center will bring something that they can appreciate, or even pique a new interest.”

By the end of the interview, when asked for a hint of next year’s events, Wood began pulling up information when an e-mail referencing the as-of-yet unconfirmed special performance came in. Good news: the contract was agreed upon and Wood gleefully announced that John Malkovich will be here in November to perform a one-man show called The Infernal Comedy. “This is a unique and remarkable opportunity for many reasons. In addition to being one of the most highly recognized and gifted actors today, John will engage in a conversation about the creative process with students and faculty.”

All in a day’s work for Wood and the staff. As they continue (as Wood joked) their none-too-lofty goal of gaining a national reputation, they’re keeping the focus on remaining a vibrant, active element of the campus and community, and seeking to inspire, delight, and enlighten patrons.

For more information, ticket sales, and performance schedule, visit www.fairfield.edu/arts.