Stony Brook’s Staller Center for the Arts is celebrating its 25th anniversary of providing quality arts and entertainment for both the university and the surrounding Long Island community. Alan Inkles, the Director of the Staller Center, is the man who has made it all possible.
Inkles’ office is a life-sized scrapbook of his years at Staller Center, with a plethora of framed photos of famous artists arranged on every available surface. “I was an undergraduate here,” he said, pointing to a large black-and-white picture on the wall, showing Inkles as a junior at Stony Brook acting in “When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder.” “I keep that picture opposite my desk to remind me to find the art,” he says. In Inkles’ line of work, he often deals with managing the logistics and financial aspects of bringing talent to perform at the Staller Center, but he knows that it is his passion for the arts that keeps him going.
Inkles began his path to his position as Director of the Staller Center for the Arts after suffering a knee injury while acting off Broadway. He returned to Staller for a part-time job, which has turned into a full-time passion. Now, he devotes his time to finding new talent to bring to the Staller Center.
One of Inkles’ major contributions to the Staller Center’s repertoire was the Stony Brook Film Festival. Inkles began this program to show unique, independent films to the Stony Brook community 18 years ago. The Staller Center’s movie screen, the largest on Long Island, measuring 40 feet, has proved to be an ideal forum to showcase these movies, making the Stony Brook Film Festival an overwhelming success for two weeks every July.
For this special 25th anniversary season at the Staller Center, Inkles has found a variety of talented performing artists to grace the stage. His goal was to provide the best quality performances in a variety of artistic disciplines. Some of the artists to look forward to this season are Bill Cosby, Audra McDonald, Wynton Marsalis, The Salzburg Marionette Company and more.
One of the biggest challenges Inkles faces when putting together a season program is bringing in new acts and talent that can’t be seen anywhere else. “I’ve sort of grown up in this place,” Inkles said, “and I’ve watched people’s interests change and technology take over a lot of things. It’s such a different world.” Appealing to the modern audience is, therefore, a different ballgame now from what it was when Inkles first began working at the Staller Center. His goal for the future of the Staller Center is to reach out to a younger audience.
There are many ways that the Staller Center is already reaching out to university students. Inkles believes his job is to provide opportunities for Stony Brook students to experience art, and there are many initiatives in place to make the shows financially accessible to students. “First On Us” is a program that allows freshmen and transfer students at Stony Brook to see their first live performance at Staller Center free of charge. There is a $20 pass available for students to see every film in the Friday Night Film Series, which is run throughout the academic year. Additionally, on Oct. 30, 2013, there will be a free screening for students of “The Conjuring” at 8:30 p.m. in the Staller Center to celebrate Halloween.
The “Met: Live in HD” opera showings are also available at a discount to students, with tickets available for only $15. The operas that will be shown at Staller this year include “Eugene Onegin” (Tchaikovsky), “Falstaff” (Verdi) and “La Bohème” (Puccini).
The audience at the Staller Center is currently composed of around 15 percent students, but Inkles will not be satisfied “until 30 to 40 percent of the house is filled with students.” His favorite memories from his years at Staller are times when the students were really able to get involved at Staller.
One such occasion occurred two years ago when he brought in the modern dance company Momix to do their show “Opus Cactus” for two nights at Staller. The second night was Inkles’ Gala Night, and open to the public, but the first night was free to all students. Inkles proudly remembers that 950 students turned out to see the show. Afterward, the students were impressed and mesmerized by the performance of acrobatics, visual art, dance, choreography and the like. Inkles is also proud to announce that Momix will be returning to Staller in November 2014, again with one night free for all students, to give a new generation of Stony Brook students the opportunity to experience this unique and artistic type of theater.
Inkles’ attention to providing for students does not go unnoticed by others. Dr. Frances Brisbane, Dean of Stony Brook’s School of Social Welfare, and contributor to the Staller Center, says she is always impressed by Inkles’ “sensitivity and understanding about different cultural groups and what they will like and benefit from.” Inkles is also recognized for his great personality. “He is so genuine,” Dr. Brisbane said, “When he talks to you, you feel like you are the only person in the world at that time.” One of Inkles’ coworkers, Kent Marks, called him “the nicest guy on campus, and one of the smartest too.”
In addition to his personality making him good at his job, Inkles maintains that it is his love for the arts that keeps him going. “I went into this business because I was an artist and I love the arts,” he said, “The day I lose that passion is the day I have to retire.” However, with all the goals Inkles still has for the future of Staller, it does not seem like his passion for the arts will cease anytime soon. He will continue to bring unique, high quality performing artists to the Staller Center for the Arts in the future.