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GSU Performing Arts Center’s new director focuses on diversity to ‘make it indispensable’

On the surface, one of Scott Sowinski’s recent career goals can best be described as idiosyncratic.

“I want us to fail,” the 45-year-old director of Governor’s State University Performing Arts Center said from a perch in the center of the center’s 1,200-seat theater. “How will we grow if we don’t fail?

“We want you to watch (a show) and tell us whether you loved it or hated it. It’s like a bad relationship. If you never tell me what I’m doing wrong, how can I change this?”

Growth is the overarching theme of Sowinski’s fledgling tenure. After taking over full management in July this year, he began working to find new ways for the center and staff. This season’s lineup includes a variety of productions, including Sugar Skull, a family musical in celebration of Latin History Month, the late artist Prince’s touring band New Power Generation, and the team-directed radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

While GSU’s past leaders have supported the arts with varying degrees of enthusiasm, Sowinski said Cheryl Green, the school’s president since 2020, has been a visible presence pushing the center’s mission. He said Green has participated in several shows, including “Air Play,” a circus-style production that toured internationally last spring.

Green said support for the arts is vital not only within the university, but also as a way to encourage engagement with the broader community.

“I am excited for the upcoming season at center under Scott’s leadership,” he said. “This is a community resource beloved by residents in the Southland and beyond.”

Sowinski said he’s excited to see what his group can do with this kind of support. The center went almost 10 years without a finance director before the previous director was able to create and fill the position.

“My predecessor did a great job of creating positions. “My job now is to trust and give ownership to the people I serve to do their jobs in the most professional way possible,” said Sowinski. “My job is to be a brand ambassador. I love being able to move the people I serve forward.”

Sowinski, a former Broadway and touring performer classically trained in opera performance, said his background allows him to mentor those he serves.

“My job is to guide them,” he said. “I told them, ‘I’m not doing it; I let you do this.’”

Sowinski’s focus on developing individual strengths was also reflected in the staff’s response, with team members expressing excitement about a variety of growth paths, from personal to corporate.

“I enjoy the change,” said ticket sales specialist Autumn Price. “That’s why I’m optimistic about the new direction we’ll take under Scott’s leadership.”

Price said he’s equally excited about expanding programming specifically for families and “introducing multiple generations to new performance experiences together.”

Office manager Virginia Lionberger said she was excited to see Sowinski unleash his talents.

“As a professional actor and singer, Scott brings tremendous talent, texture and richness to our curation of seasonal programming,” he said, adding that his professional background provides him with in-depth knowledge of the market and its players.

“It brings endless possibilities to our scene,” he said. “I find this very interesting.”

Lionberger added that he is excited to have the center fully staffed.

“This will be our first season operating as a well-oiled team,” he said.

Sowinski hopes the broader community will pick up on the excitement, seeing the center as a potential nexus for cultural exchange, and to do so, he hopes the program will actively seek participation from those it targets. Suggestions from the Latino community for Hispanic Heritage Month helped make plans for next year’s events.

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“I want to make this place indispensable,” he said. “I want our program to serve a greater community purpose because culture can only come from entertainment.”

Having fun means participating and being involved in the action on stage, he said. Ideally, it also introduces viewers to new ideas and emotions. He cited the shadow actor performance of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, planned to be held on October 27, as the most important example of this, and pointed out the impact the film had when he first watched it.

“We underestimate art,” he said. “People think art is only serious. No, art is joyful. Art is comedy.”

Ultimately, Sowinski is confident that the diversity of programming combined with the center’s appeal can help bring about real change.

“We are always the shiny new gift,” he said. “Well, isn’t this a wonderful thing?”

Governor’s State University Performing Arts Center’s full lineup for the 2023-2024 season can be found here: govst.edu/cpa-events/.

Laura Bruni is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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