This month, Russ Treyz is directing his 25th production at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, the season opener "Pride and Prejudice."
But his career in theatre almost ended before it began.
The summer after graduating from high school in New York, a young, starry-eyed Treyz made his way into Chautauqua Opera's summer music camp, quite some distance from his home, and quite by chance. After speaking with someone at the camp who said to be there at a certain time and day, he had relatives drop him off, suitcase packed for the summer, at what he assumed would be a grand summer experience.
Turned out he hadn't been accepted - he was there to audition for the program.
"Of course, I wasn't prepared," he said. He sang scales, while the other attendees, all from the Eastman School of Music, sang beautiful lines from operas.
The director, Alfredo Valenti, must have felt badly for the determined young man. "Go sit with the basses," Valenti said.
Before Valenti could change his mind, Treyz was selected for the "Servant's Quartet" - because he fit one of the four costumes. To his surprise at that point, he was allowed to stay.
"Music camp changed my life," Treyz said in a recent interview. "I was amazed that those kids could sing so well, that they were so intensely into the arts. Their idea of entertainment was getting together at night and singing oratorios."
After his summer experience, Treyz went on to Princeton as planned, where he was in pre-med for the first two years. "I wanted to make a lot of money and go to the theatre," he said. "But organic chemistry did me in. Then I thought, I like theatre, so why don't I just go to work in the theatre?"
He changed his direction and took every language, literature and theatre course available, graduating with a double major in English and French. Then he went on to graduate school at Yale Drama School.
Treyz first came to the Arts Center in 1999, to see a friend's production of "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." He met up again with general manager Richard Feldman, whom he knew from the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.
The two had met when the national tour of "Cotton Patch Gospel," which Treyz directed and co-authored, was running there. He told Feldman he was interested in working at the Arts Center, and was hired for his first show, "Corpse," in September 2000.
Thus began a long and steady relationship with Arts Center staff and audiences. "What keeps me coming back? I like this theatre," he said. "It's intimate, yet it accommodates good sets. But really it's the staff."
Treyz said people in each department, from carpentry to lighting to costumes to public relations, are always on top of their game. "Things get done ahead of time," he said. "They do their homework. And they take care of my actors."
Treyz said he has worked before with a number of the actors in this show, including several who have appeared here in previous shows. "This company is fantastic," he said.
He has high praise for the Arts Center as a whole. "I always use this theatre, when I go elsewhere, as an example of how a theatre should be run," he said.
Arts Center regulars have come to know and admire Treyz for his excellent direction on such shows as "Lend Me A Tenor," "Inherit the Wind," and "Mousetrap."
"Pride and Prejudice" is a challenging show, Treyz said, because of the way it's written, with short scene changes. "It's a very interesting play. It's closest to verging on a classical drama," he said. "But it's not a classical drama, not a period piece. It's a contemporary, energetic version of a classic novel by Jane Austen."
Audiences will have an opportunity to see the handiwork of this career director Oct. 4-23. Tickets Oct. 4-6 are $37 for adults and $27 for children; regular tickets Oct. 7-23 are $47 for adults and $33 for children. Call the box office at 843-842-2787 or visit www.artshhi.org. The Arts Center is located at 14 Shelter Cove Lane on Hilton Head Island.