Duke Guthrie: A Life of Direction

August 30, 2010

Duke Guthrie: A Life of Direction

VALDOSTA -- Characters on stage may slay the dragon, get the girl and turn the other cheek; but the theatre industry doesn’t always have a storybook ending -- a reality that guides Associate Professor of Theatre Duke Guthrie as he consoles students’ through educational exploration with a respectful, but firm hand.

“I try to always be direct and honest with students, patrons and stakeholders; it just makes life easier but not necessarily easy,” said Guthrie, who teaches theatre management, voice and diction, and portfolio/resume presentation for the Theatre and Dance Area. “When students enter the professional theatre industry, they will find that people are generally pretty rough, so I don't pad my responses. I try to not be ugly, but I think my students will tell you I can be painfully honest.”

But don’t let his candid disposition fool you. The managing director of Peach State Summer Theatre seems to care about his students and the Valdosta State program as much as the air he breathes. His unconditional devotion is what led the university to bestow upon him the 2010 Excellence in Service Award -- given each fall to a faculty member who exudes leadership, commitment and professional development.

“Duke is a colleague who can be counted on. He will be the first person to arrive, the last person to leave, and the one who will carry the heaviest box to the car when it is time to load up for a trip,” a colleague wrote in the nomination letter.

The Theatre Bug

Guthrie’s savvy insights into production and “get the job done” attitude actualized during years of varied roles within the theatre industry. After studying theatre management at Valdosta State, Guthrie migrated to the Big Apple to earn a master’s degree in Performing Arts Management from Brooklyn College. With a stalwart educational background in tow, the Georgia native flung himself into the lights of Broadway. Guthrie found work as company and general managers for various productions like “Chita and All That Jazz,” “Fame,” and “The Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular.” He worked with actors Sir Ian McKellen, Richard Harris, Nicol Williamson, and Sandy Duncan, to name a few.

“I have always participated in arts activities. I sang in youth choirs, was in the marching band, took art classes in junior high and high school; but like many in the field, I was strongly encouraged by my parents to find a major that 'could make money,’” said Guthrie, whose first bachelor's degree is in business from the University of Georgia. “But after a chat with then VSC Theatre Professor Randy Wheeler and a midlife crisis at 28, I came to Valdosta State College to major in theatre. I was given the opportunity to do it all and realized that my previous experience and degrees had all lead me to a career in the arts.”

Education takes Center Stage

He transitioned into academia in 1999, when he accepted a teaching position among the stately pines. Now colleagues and theatre patrons alike cannot imagine the program without his keen direction, jovial asides and artistic vision.

“I must say that teaching is like doing a one-nighter tour every day of your life. It is hard work, challenging, and there is always something new to deal with; but it is also the most rewarding work I have ever done,” said Guthrie, who serves on a variety of regional and national boards and conferences. “The ‘aha moments,’ the calls and e-mails from alumni who share their triumphs and successes are so rewarding. I am very proud at each commencement when I see the students I have taught cross the stage.”

From Stage to Page

Guthrie is evolving yet again. With a short hiatus from teaching, Guthrie plans to delve into research endeavors that allow him to further explore the theatre arts. He will shadow a handful of renowned company and house managers to document the changes in theatre management during the last 10 years. Having just returned from a performance at the world’s largest arts festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, Guthrie is also eager to explore other major performing arts festivals throughout the world and assess their contributions to advancing the arts.

“Theatre can be fun, but it can also be serious; it can teach, inform and make us think about something in a new way,” he said. “Professional development keeps us real. It is important that my students see I can perform well. It is important that I remember what it is like to get a performance audience-ready. It is important that the theatres' stakeholders see that I am doing my best when I am asking them to contribute their time, effort and entertainment dollars.”