WILMINGTON — Bryan Wallingford disproved author Thomas Wolfe’s adage, “You can never go home again,” when the Wilmington native and 2002 Wilmington College graduate gladly accepted a position as theatre production specialist at WC.
“Yes, I’m home. In many ways, some people might think I never left,” said Wallingford, whose directorial debut for Wilmington College Theatre comes with the production of “Heathers, the Musical” Nov. 21 through 23.
As a child in 1988, he first appeared in WC theatre professor Lois Hock’s children’s theatre production based on “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” His first role in an actual WC Theatre production was portraying Wally Webb in “Our Town” when he was in junior high.
While attending Wilmington High School, Wallingford took courses for college credit at WC before enrolling at the College, where he immersed himself in the theatre experience.
Even after graduating from Wilmington College some 17 years ago, and teaching and directing at Stebbins, Alter, Wilmington, Lebanon and Tippecanoe high schools, Wallingford has been a stalwart of College-Community Summer Theatre. His compelling performances in 14 summer shows include portraying Che in “Evita”, Mae Peterson in “Bye, Bye Birdie”, Gomez Addams in “The Addams Family” and Shrek in “Shrek.”
“It’s been a good 30-year run for me at Wilmington College. After that long, I should be retiring!” he joked.
The reality is far from it. This year, Wallingford is directing shows and engaging in outreach and recruitment, while next year, with Hock’s full retirement after 43 years on the faculty this spring, he will also teach theatre courses.
Wallingford describes “Heathers, the Musical” as not only the ideal show to direct in his new capacity, but also quite simply a “perfect” college show.
“The students are far enough from being in high school that the language and darker themes are not as shocking, but they’re close enough that they can recall what high school was like,” he said.
“They can bring realism to their characters,” he added, noting “Heathers” addresses such issues as bullying, self-doubt and toxic relationships. “College theatre is a great place to not only entertain, but also a place where you can educate, enlighten and light a spark for conversation you might not get anyplace else.”
Indeed, Wallingford said his actors realize they have a “tremendous responsibility” with “Heathers.”
“They see this show as a vessel for them to motivate their audience to become more cognizant of the way we treat and interact with each other,” he said. “I think they feel this is a passion project for them, that this show has a message for their audience and it can make them take action in how we live our lives.”
While Wallingford hopes area high school students will check out WC Theatre’s production of “Heathers”, he has been attending numerous high school productions this fall to meet the casts and share what could be in store if they come to Wilmington College.
“I directed high school theatre for 17 years and never once had anyone from a college say, ‘Can I meet with your kids?’ Coaches do it all the time for their sports, but it really doesn’t exist in performing arts – until now,” he added.
Returning to Wilmington College as a staff member also serves to reunite Wallingford with persons who’ve been “like an extended family” for him.
“It’s a joy being part of that team: Wynn (Alexander), Becky (Haines), Stephen (Haines) and Lois (Hock), they’re not just professors and mentors — our relationship goes beyond that,” he said. “To be welcomed back as part of that team has been emotionally and professionally one of the best experiences ever.”
“Heathers, the Musical” will run Nov. 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. at WC’s Heiland Theatre.
The show is intended for mature audiences due to stage violence and language.
Reservations can be made by contacting the Theatre Box Office, located in Boyd Cultural Arts Center, weekdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. at 937-481-2267.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for senior citizens and $8 for college and high school students with valid identification. WC students with a College ID can attend free of charge.