”The Lion in Winter” director reflects on the play and its importance

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By Jim North
Southeast Campus Editor

Like a great script, “It was the playwright and the actress falling in love,” he says.

Vern Stefanic met his wife at the University of Tulsa (TU) while studying to be a playwright, and as she studied the fine art of acting.

The romance eventually culminated in marriage and the two have been involved with theatre together since.

Stefanic was the director for the Tulsa Community College (TCC) play titled, “The Lion in Winter.” His wife is professional actress Lisa Stefanic, a main character in the production.

Show dates for “The Lion in Winter” were Feb. 26-28 and Mar. 3-6 in the Studio Theatre of the Performing Arts Center for Education (PACE).

In addition to numerous acting roles, L. Stefanic is an instructor, director and administrative assistant to the TCC Performing Arts Division dean, Kelly Clark.

  1. Stefanic is an adjunct professor at TCC, teaching classes in both Script Writing I and II. He enjoys the periodic opportunities to be involved in the creative process, directing plays at the PACE, as well as other venues.

Stefanic originally obtained his bachelor’s degree from TU in journalism. By his junior year, he received a job offer to become a reporter with the Tulsa World newspaper.

Raised in St. Louis, he grew up with a family engrossed in theatre: building sets, stage managing and running lights. Growing up “backstage,” Stefanic says he felt a pull toward the creative style of writing.

Returning to TU, he began pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in playwrighting, all while maintaining his position as entertainment editor of the Tulsa World.

Today, V. Stefanic is editor of a local petroleum-geology
magazine, while living out his passion as a playwright, instructor and director.

He loves all three, and as for which he enjoys the most, he is not sure. “It’s like, which is your favorite child? I can’t say.”

His role as director involves having a specific goal in mind for a given performance.

“What I do as a director is try to find in a big scene what’s going on … to find the moment of truth … a moment where the material connects to the audience.”

He says responsibility falls on the director to connect with people, whether through music or a play—making something come alive in a way that makes people realize their life has been changed or impacted by the story.

“The Lion in Winter” was written in the 60s during the Vietnam War, by James Goldman. The setting is in Chinon, France, the year 1183. Numerous references are made in the script as to the barbaric nature of the world at that time.

Stefanic draws a correlation between then and now: 12th century France with modern-day themes and contemporary audiences.

He sees a parallel with the theme of “The Lion in Winter” and the current election season of the United States.

“What you have are seven people who are battling for this crown, for the presidency of this era … the connections between this play and what’s going on today are overwhelming,” he says.

The play’s story-line involves Henry II (played by professional actor Kurt Harris) and Eleanor of Aquitaine his wife, who have three sons. Henry is starting to think about who will become the next king, and all three sons think they will wear the crown.

“At times, it’s not just a chess game, it’s an out and out battle. It’s a battle of wits, a battle of power and strength. It’s a lot of people who have greed and desire—they covet—and they’re going to do anything it takes to get what they want, which is to be the king.”

Inside one of King Henry’s castles, Eleanor, his wife, is kept under “lock and key.” Henry suspects his wife of plotting to seize his kingdom. Stefanic likens the plot to a modern-day “Game of Thrones.”

He hopes audiences were entertained by the inherent humor of the script, as well as the outstanding, hard-working cast.

Characters telling the story are what makes scripts most compelling, he says.

Also compelling were the skillful and colorful costume designs of TCC’s Carmen Gilbert.

As for what Stefanic looks for in a well-written script, he says, “You have to have characters that are colorful, compelling and to whom we can connect. That’s really the key.”

Besides components of a great story, setting and theme, directors look for how they can help the characters bring those to life.

Stefanic describes theatre as being “enhanced reality.”

“You make it just a little bigger and a little richer for everyone to enjoy. In this play, the characters all give us that opportunity.”

The audience learns that the struggle between characters was futile, due to the self-serving natures of the characters in the drama.

“I think if we can see that in ourselves sometimes, we find out that we’re all very self-centered and grabbing for things, and it just doesn’t work. What’s wrong with trusting people? What’s wrong with trying to get along in the community? No one in this play does that.”

Stefanic says his goal has always been to be involved with theatre that matters and which makes a difference in people’s lives.

“I’ve been very fortunate the last several years, the shows I’ve been able to be part of have been well-received, and in many cases award-winning, but more than that it’s the kind of stuff that people walk away from, realizing their life had been touched by the experience.”

Stefanic and wife Lisa enjoy the “upstage” aspects of their lives together in theatre: acting, teaching, writing and directing.

Summing up his thoughts about the art of directing and a life woven in theatre:

“I think I’m really lucky to be able to do this,” he concludes.

For more information about script-writing classes with Vern Stefanic, he can be reached by e-mail: vern.stefanic@tulsacc.edu.

For information about private acting classes and musical theatre, Lisa Stefanic can be reached by e-mail:
lisa.stefanic@tulsacc.edu.

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