July 8, 2021

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU Theatre Grad Named Artistic Director at Peach State Summer Theatre

Hank Rion

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University College of the Arts alumnus Hank Rion is the new artistic director for Peach State Summer Theatre. He also joins the university’s Department of Communication Arts faculty as an associate professor of theatre.

“As a freshman attending Valdosta State University, or Valdosta State College as it was called then, I would sit in class and watch Dr. Randy Wheeler and Jacque Wheeler teaching, and I knew I wanted to do what they did — to be a mentor for students and give back all the help and support they gave me,” Rion shared. “I would not be a director if it wasn’t for Dr. Wheeler’s directing class.”

Dr. Randy Wheeler retired from teaching at VSU in 2006; he taught for more than two decades and continued to direct PSST, as well as VSU Theatre and Dance, shows for a few years afterwards. Jacque Wheeler retired from teaching at VSU and serving as artistic director of Peach State Summer Theatre in 2020; she initially joined the university faculty in 1986.

“I have worked so hard over the years, professionally and educationally, to fulfill this dream — to be back at my alma mater doing what I love and inspiring students and audiences,” Rion continued. “It is a joyous, full-circle moment for me. I still can’t believe it. Being back where it all started, walking the same halls, and teaching in the same classrooms is surreal. And to work with this great faculty and administration is an honor. I have to say that working alongside Duke Guthrie, professor of theatre and managing director of Peach State Summer Theatre, is going to be the highlight of my career. I know we will make a great team and continue a legacy by bringing new and exciting shows to even bigger audiences.” 

Rion earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre from VSU in 1993. He then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College.

Rion’s experience with Peach State Summer Theatre goes back to when PSST was known as Jekyll Island Musical Theatre, and he was a student at Valdosta State. For three summers he served as a member of the acting company, where he performed in a number of popular musicals, including “Grease,” “South Pacific,” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” He recently directed PSST’s 2021 production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On.” He previously directed PSST’s “Ring of Fire” in 2016, “Million Dollar Quartet” in 2018, “Mamma Mia!” in 2019, and more.

Rion boasts an extensive record of service as a director and educator at the Young Adult Institute in New York City; Satellite High School in Satellite Beach, Florida; Riverside Children’s Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida; College of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Satellite Academy of Fine Arts in Satellite Beach, Florida; and The Henegar in Melbourne, Florida. During his four years as The Henegar he updated and premiered a production of the musical “Cry Baby,” which is now being licensed worldwide through Music Theatre International, and he directed the Southeastern premieres of “The Color Purple,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Hand to God,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” 

Rion most recently served as an assistant professor of theatre at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida, where he taught classes in acting, directing, script analysis, musical theatre, and more and directed multiple main-stage and black-box theatre productions, including “Godspell,” “War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast,” and “Red Speedo.”

“We are excited about Hank joining the university and Peach State Summer Theatre,” said Dr. Mark Borzi, head of VSU’s Department of Communication Arts. “He has an impressive background and brings a wealth of experience to the classroom and to PSST.”

VSU Theatre is committed to fostering excellence within its theatre performance, theatre production, theatre management, and musical theatre programs while also contributing to the lifelong learning and cultural development of the citizens of South Georgia, North Florida, and beyond. 

Peach State Summer Theatre, or PSST, is Valdosta’s premiere professional summer stock theatre. It started in 1990 as the Jekyll Island Music Festival; it was relocated to VSU and renamed PSST in 2005. The Georgia Legislature designated PSST the Official Musical Theatre of the State of Georgia.

In May Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a budget that included $12.4 million in bond funds for construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art $18.7 million Performing Arts Center at VSU. State leaders previously secured $1.3 million in design funding for the project a year ago. The remaining $5 million comes from private funds raised by the VSU Foundation Inc. Rion said he is excited about the creative opportunities the new venue will provide as the university continues to seek to produce the highest quality theatrical productions.

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