Will North On Bringing His Talents To CMT

Gil Kaan

Writer, Registered Critic

The Cabrillo Music Theatre, nestled in Ventura County, has been a theatre force to be reckon with for over 30 years. CMT consistently produces award-winning productions, along with providing outreach programs to kids, seniors and the military to give back to the community. Just this year, CMT welcomed to their board of directors, their new Managing Director Will North. Better Lemons and I had the chance to exchange a few words of inquiry and responses amidst Will's multi-tasking schedule.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview with Better Lemons and myself, Will.

Sooo, to begin with... Who, what, where, why brought you into your still relatively new position of Cabrillo Music Theatre's Managing Director? 

It is interesting, indeed. I, of course, began as a musical theatre performer as a kid. Did my first Equity show at 12, then really went through a period of time going from show-to-show-to-show playing leads as a performer all the way through my MFA program. Then, continued to perform professionally after that.  At the same time, I directed my first show at age 18.  My philosophy was always: I am a storyteller. I want to stay in the theatre (the building) always, in whatever capacity, whether on stage or directing.  That philosophy led me to eventually tech, direct and produce as well.  Simultaneously, I had some tremendous opportunities in the business side of entertainment that allowed me valuable experience on that side of things.  So, this position truly is a situation of me being led to a place where every bit of my training and experience is highly relevant. 

Your business resume is equally extensive and impressive as your theatrical resume. Would I be assuming correctly that your business accomplishments came before your theatrical?

Theatre came first, because I basically grew up on stage.

You earned a Masters of Fine Arts in acting pedagogy from the University of Alabama, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from Jacksonville University. What exactly is an "acting pedagogy"? I've never heard of a "pedagogy.”

"Pedagogy" is the method or practice of teaching.  In my MFA program, I studied the methods of acting conceived by the greats and how to teach them.  I got both a broad and deep survey of all the various methods of acting—in-to-out, emotional-based approaches, as well as, movement-based, out-to-in approaches.  I graduated with a valuable toolbox of techniques to both unlock roles that I portray and the roles for the actors I direct.  The University of Alabama has an excellent program. 

Did you receive your business acumen from formal training? Or from your assistant stint at the William Morris Agency? 

I did not receive formal business training.  All of my business knowledge comes from doing.  I have worked closely with the marketing department of Mattel since 2005, and that has been an extremely valuable learning experience in the marketing and PR side of things.  Also, working with Abel McCallister Designs taught me a great deal about producing. However, yes, as assistant to Sam Haskell (though immediately after his William Morris days), I learned many things, including contracts, budgets, and other important lessons. I was there as he produced the Miss America Live, Miss America Reality Check, his 60-city book tour for his bestseller; among many, many others. So, yes to your point. I have spent quality time in marketing, PR, production, and the agent side of entertainment—but have had no formal business training.  I guess you can say I am an advocate for getting a degree in what one is passionate about.  I fully believe following one's passions will open the right doors.  All of that time spent in the theatre department made me more than comfortable speaking in front of large crowds, and helping me be an effective communicator.  So, yes, one can have a career that is congruent with one's degree choice—even in theatre (said he with a smile of amazement).  

I would think that the position of CMT's managing director would be the perfect outlet for merging your creative and business talents. Could you give the Better Lemons readers an example of a typical work week at Cabrillo Music Theatre?

You are correct in your assessment.  And already my short time here has been greatly fulfilling, rewarding, and the perfect blend of my passions and skills.  To give you a typical week is impossible.  No one week is like the other—yet another reason for why I thrive in this environment.  Audition weeks are different than rehearsal weeks, which are different from production weeks, which are different from planning weeks.  For someone like myself, who gets bored VERY easily and quickly with routine; it is a dream situation. 

Does this executive position allow any leeway for you to take time off to rehearse for an acting or singing gig? 

I don't really ever take time off; my phone is always within reach. But I do have time to squeeze in quick gigs here and there that don't take a large time commitment.  You may have seen me on the barrage of Chrysler Pacifica commercials that have been running all year (said he with a wink).  When I interviewed, someone asked when did I stop performing and just direct and produce. I answered, “I didn't realize I had stopped.”  Obviously, a majority of my time is spent producing and directing, but I would hope I will always sing and perform as well.  

Do you plan to be performing in or directing any future CMT shows?  

Well, I am super excited to be directing the first show of our 2017-18 season, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT!  I have a very specific vision for this show, which includes updating the choreography for 2017.  I want to bring one of the masters of hip hop choreography, Dave Scott, on board to do just that. Cannot wait to work with him!  Performing?  Stay tuned. 

For our Patrón drinkers and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf patrons, can you share what your experimental event marketing for those two brands were? 

I was producer for the Patrón Aficionados tour in 2015 (that went to all of the major cities in the US), as well as, events such as Celebrity Fight Night in AZ, Bloom Fest in San Diego, and many more activations across the country. For Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, it was more SoCal-based, doing activations at the Emmys, Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards, etc. 

You've performed in a variety of major venues across the States - Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Disney World and the Celebrity Galaxy Cruise Ship, to name a few.  Can you pick an element or two of each's wonderfulness that you would love to incorporate into CMT?

They are all so unique and different. What we have here at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is unique and great in its own right. So from a venue standpoint, I don't know that I would change too much. But let me answer your question in another way. I do plan to perform in other venues while still continuing our yearly schedule at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  There are some projects and shows that simply don't work in an 1800-seat space (amazing as our venue is for the large-scale musicals). But these other shows and concepts I believe are very relevant, and I am very committed to producing. 

What did you learn from the various challenges you encountered in all these different venues that you're bringing to CMT?  

Again, the venues you list that I have performed in were all top notch. The venues themselves didn't really pose any particular challenges to speak of.  I guess if anything, the level of quality—not that Cabrillo ever lacked quality—I think the shows have always been top notch.  But I guess what I am saying is elevating the brand to a place of national notoriety.  Eventually, I want actors in NYC, when they see a casting call for a Cabrillo show, to understand the quality and artistic excellence that that implies.  There are a handful of regional theatres in the US that everyone knows the name of. I want Cabrillo on that list. 

You had EVITA, now SISTER ACT and PETER PAN planned for your current season. Can you give us a hint as to what you're shooting for next season? Or is it too early?  

Next season is:  JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (as I mentioned I'm directing, said he with excitement.), DISNEY'S HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and another Disney Classic that I can't announce until July. 

For a future CMT production, what would your biggest get be? 

That I don't want to let the secret out on.  But I will say, I am committed to doing West Coast premieres here at Cabrillo. 

For a future Will North project, what role would you still like to conquer?  

Oh, I certainly have my list: Javert in LES MISERABLES, Sweeney in SWEENEY TODD, Floyd in FLOYD COLLINS, George in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, Archibald in SECRET GARDEN, the Russian in CHESS, and more recently, Pierre in NATASHA PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812…to name a few. 

In regards to CMT's “Beyond the Footlights” program, what goals have been met and what future goals have you set for it?  

While we are committed to producing Broadway-quality shows, we will always give back to the community—and that is a priority for us.  Our kids and teens programs, outreach to senior centers through performance, our free Christmas show to the troops on the naval base in Oxnard, CA, "Buy a Bus" program to bus in kids to see our performances who otherwise might not get the chance, as well as, other causes/programs will continue to be a part of who we are as an organization. 

Any other thoughts you'd like to add on the future of CMT?  The future is extremely bright for Cabrillo Music Theatre. We will continue to produce Broadway-caliber shows here at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. We look forward to expanding our footprint to other venues and experiences in the very near future. 

Thank you again, Will! 

For further info, tickets and scheduling of Cabrillo Music Theatre's current season of musicals (SISTER ACT begins April 21, PETER PAN on July 14), visit www.cabrillomusictheatre.com

Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas in his career, including Ann-Margret, Diana Ross, Faye Dunaway, Carol Channing, Shirley MacLaine, Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minnelli, Sandra Bernhard, Anna Nicole Smith, Margaret Cho, and three Catwomen—Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar. He had the fortuitous opportunity to conduct Lily Tomlin’s coming out interview. Gil has since reviewed movies and theatre for a number of local and national outlets.
A photo montage of Gil’s Halloween Carnavale photos through the last decade was recently included in the WeHo@ 25 juried exhibition.