Q-and-A with Wayne Brinda of Prime Stage Theatre

By Rachel Jones | Photograph from Prime Stage Theatre

mockingbirdThe Prime Stage Theatre celebrates 20 years this season, continuing its tradition of bringing beloved novels to life on stage. We caught up with Wayne Brinda, the theatre’s co-founder and producing artistic director, to chat about the program’s success and how it plans to celebrate this incredible milestone.

WHIRL: How has Prime Stage Theatre made a name for itself over the years?

Wayne Brinda: The blend of shows and literacy education is what make us unique. When my wife and I started the company, there was musical theater and adult theater, but nothing for young people or teachers addressing literacy. That’s the core of our mission. A lot of theaters do literature-based plays, but everything we do is connected to middle school or secondary school curriculum, or literature that they’re interested in reading. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘1984,’ ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower.’

WHIRL: How do you choose which shows you’ll perform?

WB: We have a teacher advisory committee that suggests shows, and we ask young people to suggest shows. There are a lot of plays we’d love to do out there, but it really needs to fit that criteria. They need to fit PA’s core curriculum or be relevant to young people now. We say, ‘We bring literature to life.’ But it’s really, ‘We bring literature — that kids are reading and teachers are teaching — to life.’

WHIRL: Why is the literary aspect such a key element in your plans?

WB: I have a doctorate in education. I teach at Pitt Bradford with a focus on literacy. I know there’s really a growing number of young people who are not interested in reading or are struggling with reading. We started a Literacy in Action Program, the only one in the country, that works with schools in economically challenged areas that don’t have funding for arts and literature programs. We work with teachers and students for a year and help them read the books, see that it’s enjoyable, see that it’s relevant, see that it’s achievable. And we use the theater to do that. It’s really exciting to see that.

WHIRL: What do you have planned for celebrating this anniversary season?

WB: We’re opening it with ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ on November 5. Then, on November 12, we’re bringing in Mary Badham, who played the original Scout in the movie with Gregory Peck, on November 12. We’ll have a VIP event at 5:30 p.m. called ‘An Evening with Scout,’ then the performance at 8 p.m., then she’ll give a brief Q-and-A with the audience and sign autographs after the show. She was here for our 10th anniversary, and we did ‘Mockingbird’ for that, too, so we thought it’d be fitting to have her back this year.

We’re really excited for our 20th anniversary. The celebration is more of a ‘thank you’ than it is about us. We really want to say thank you to the region for supporting us. We’re excited to launch this season with ‘Mockingbird,’ especially because it’s about integrity, staying true to yourself. That’s how we are with our mission, and that’s another reason why we chose it for this season.

For tickets and more information, visit primestage.com.

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