Exit Interview

Saying farewell to Ovations! Series artistic director Evy Warshawski

"We assume sophistication, and we shouldn't always."

For the most part, though, Ovations! audiences have embraced the new, the different, the unfamiliar. "I hope it doesn't come down as condescending in any way," Warshawski cautions, "because I'm learning right along with the audiences. I'm learning just as much, even though I'm familiar enough and secure enough to book it.

"The idea of this kind of programming niche at a university is to get people talking. I want people talking even if they don't like Merce Cunningham. When I see them out in the lobby talking about things like Oleanna (the explosive David Mamet play about a sexual-harassment case) — there were people in the hallway so long I actually had to turn the lights off. Adam Aronson (a patron of St. Louis arts and artists) I saw two days later, and he said to me, "Evy, I got to tell you, everybody hated that play. But you know what? Everybody's talking about it.'"

Evy Warshawski
Evy Warshawski

That's the kind of response an artistic director dreams of, but there are AD nightmares, too, those moments when she has had to make the impossible happen. "We've had our share of difficult," Warshawski says. She mentions the Water Puppets, an ancient art of Vietnam, traditionally performed on flooded rice fields. When the touring company came to Washington University, the Edison Theatre stage could not support the water needed for the pageant. Moving the event to the fieldhouse brought with it further complications — no water was to fall on the gym floor.

"The exotic flavor of all that was worth it," Warshawski tells herself. "Things are always fabulous in hindsight. They're always incredibly traumatic when you're going through them. You think, "I can't move the Water Puppets to the fieldhouse — I can't do it,' and you know you can. But it's the thought of it, putting it up in 48 hours before people come in."

Sleight-of-hand cardsharp Ricky Jay made for another set of complications. "He was only difficult before he got here," Warshawski says in retrospect. "He told us everything he needed — it's just that the list is so long.

"But you realize why when you see the show. I had seen it in Chicago on a lark — coldest day of the year in Chicago — but I had to see Ricky Jay. When I saw it, I thought, "There's no way in the world I'm ever going to get this show,' but I had such a great time. Then all of a sudden it became available."

One of Warshawski's ever-present obstacles has been the Edison stage itself. The sightlines, especially on the left side of the house, are notoriously bad. As for the stage itself, dancer "Mark Morris walked out onstage, fresh off the plane, and he went on the stage and said, "You have got to be kidding.' The second thing he said was, "I will not dance on this stage without a dance floor.' We had about eight hours to make it happen. We got a dance floor."

Someone with that much pluck is hard to replace. Sally Bliss, who as artistic director of Dance St. Louis has co-sponsored many events with Warshawski, wants Wash. U. to realize how special Warshawski has been before they choose a successor. "The most important thing about Evy is that, in an intimate atmosphere, she is the best presenter of performing arts in this country. She had an incredible mix. I'm not sure the powers that be understand what she did. I worry that they won't bring in a person that can bring Ovations! to the next level. They've got to continue that flow."

For the interim, Henry Schvey serves as artistic director. "This year is going to be very difficult," he says as understatement. Schvey must begin booking the 2000-2001 season now as he teaches full-time and chairs the department. "We'll get through it," he asserts. Dean of arts and sciences and associate vice chancellor Edward S. Macias will be assigning an administrative review to assess the program. "I feel the university remains strongly committed to the kind of vision that has been put forward," Schvey says assuredly.

Meanwhile, Warshawski is packing for the move north. Anything more she wants to add?

"Thank you, St. Louis."

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