“That stage is sacred. It’s like church. There are some things that you just don’t do up there.”
Those are the words of a Western Carolina University staff member whose love of theatre is his full-time occupation.
Paul Lormand, theatre manager and director of the Bardo Arts Center, came to Western Carolina University when the Bardo Fine and Performing Center, then known only as the Fine and Performing Arts Center or FPAC, was still under construction. WCU’s administration was not sure what Lormand’s responsibilities would be, but when the theatre was up, Lormand brought it to life.
Lormand grew up in Kaplan, La., which he describes as full of “rice and soybeans,” “Catholic” and “Cajun.”
“It had 5,000 people in 1954 and still has 5,000 people. It never changed. It has not changed in close to 60 years,” said Lormand.
Growing up in a “regular Catholic family,” Lormand and his three siblings lived within walking distance of their grandparents’ houses, their father’s insurance company, the Catholic church and the Catholic school. The little town was famous for a time for its cherished and protected heritage, but by Lormand’s generation, the culture was quickly fading.
“When you get influenced with radio, television, movies, records, songs and everything, that’s pretty much it. You discover that there’s an outside world. Wars also integrated the importance they had to learn English,” said Lormand, speaking about the loss of the French language.
“Between World War I and World War II, a Time magazine [reporter] had come down because they had heard about these Cajuns from World War I. . . I will never forget reading that article. It came out in 1930s. They said that there were, in America, there were Jewish communities, there were Italian communities, Polish communities, but the Cajun community was the most unspoiled culture they had ever seen in American. [Before] it was like nothing media-wise had influenced them.”
He added, “They lost a beautiful culture. I think it’s just a pseudo thing now. It’s just a show. You know, Cajun food, it’s a selling [point]. That’s all it is.”
Although Lormand never saw a theatrical production until college, his love of performing and the arts began in elementary school.
“In fourth grade, I joined the choir because of these nuns from Canada,” said Lormand. “They were big into singing. They would sing all the time. I enjoyed doing that, so I joined the choir. By the time I was 13, starting ninth grade, I was the organist at the church. I always tell people that’s where my career started because I got paid.”
Every day at 6:15 a.m., 6:45 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Lormand sat at the organ and played during Mass. For two out of the three, he was paid 60 cents. The other, his pastor explained, was a free performance since that counted as his daily church attendance. Thrilled to be playing, Lormand also raked in a lot of money for the times because of his job.
“When I started dating, my dad said, ‘Do you need some money?’ I said, ‘No, I need your car,'” Lormand laughed.
He added, “And, 45 years later, I’m still doing it. . . Everywhere I went, I became the church organist. I found a Catholic church that needed an organist, and that became my second job.”
In college, Lormand studied as a communications and English major at the University of Louisiana – Layette, graduating in 1978.
“Communications was different back then. It was all housed in one department,” Lormand said. “It was a communications theatre department. We broke away in the early 80s. It was now communications and now theatre. Theatre is creative communication, I thought, so when I went there, I was taking a lot of communications classes.”
His first performance was in “King Lear” as the Earl of Gloucester, and Lormand was off.
“And that was it,” he said. “I was in basically every show after that whether it was main stage, reader’s theatre, studio show, whatever. For those last three years of college that’s pretty much what I did.”
There was no musical theatre program, but when Lormand moved on to pursue his master’s at the University of Memphis, he worked on his first musical. His studies concentrated on managing and directing because there were more job opportunities. As he said, “actors are a dime a dozen.”
“I was lucky,” Lormand said. “I graduated on June 30, and on July 1, I started a job at Playhouse on the Square, a non-profit professional theatre in Memphis.”
While there, Lormand was a triple threat, putting all of his theatrical passions into play. He managed, directed and filled in roles the company was unable to cast. He has worked on productions like “Brigadoon,” “Rashomon” and “How to Succeed in Business without really Trying.”
“You deal with all sorts of characters on and offstage,” said Lormand, who is full of tales and horror stories of behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
From Memphis, Lormand moved around to various positions involved with the performing arts. He worked as the cultural arts director for the City of Collierville, Tenn., as well as the General Manager at the Harrell Performing Arts Theatre. In January 1999, he was hired as the director of the Schauer Arts Center, Inc. in Hartford, Wis. After a chair seat at his alma mater in Louisiana, Lormand moved once again to Tahlequah, Okla. to serve as the executive director of the Sequoyah Institute and managing director of the Repertory Troupe until June 2004. While in Oklahoma, Lormand’s only child Joseph was born.
With the birth of Joseph, Lormand wanted to provide a solid financial future to his family. He began looking for a new job, and the one that most appealed to him was Western Carolina University. Thankfully, WCU also wanted Lormand in return.
“The building was about 70 percent built at the time,” said Lormand about the Bardo Arts Center. “And, I was the third person to interview. I was lucky that the previous two turned out to be ‘bonzos,’ as they put it. They looked good on paper, but when they came, they must have been embellished a lot.”
Two days after the interview, Lormand got the job and booked out of Oklahoma in less than a month. Lormand and his former wife found a house in Lake Junkluska and settled down with six-month-old Joseph.
“The building had been delayed for a year,” said Lormand, “which allowed me to come in and program, try to understand the area, start a subscription series, a sponsorship series. [The committee] didn’t realize all that was involved.”
The committee was unfamiliar with the idea of bringing in entertainment. They thought the space could be used for the School of Stage and Screen and other educational programs. Lormand presented the idea of a professional series, known today as the Galaxy of the Stars.
Since then, Lormand works daily to fine tune the beauty and caliber of the BAC theatre. Some job duties include marketing, fund-raising, gathering sponsorship, budgeting, booking talent to come to Cullowhee, hiring a strong staff, and “serve as a key leader, business manager, community spokesperson and production coordinator for all projects,” according to a statement written in 2004. Previous events Lormand booked for the series in recent years include “Simply Sinatra” with Steve Lippia, The Water Coolers, Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, Neil Berg’s “100 Years of Broadway” and The Vienna Boys Choir.
His favorite show involved bringing to life a long-ago Southern author.
“You have to understand, this is going back to my childhood. The first summer we programmed. . . we brought Hal Holbrook, ‘Mark Twain Tonight.’ This was something when I was 10-years-old watching television with my father. I always followed his career very closely. I just thought he was a wonderful actor,” said Lormand.
After the performance, Lormand and a few other Fine and Performing Arts employees took Holbrook out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant next to the Cullowhee post office.
“I could ask him questions. He answered every one of them,” said Lormand. “He would just start talking about it and give us insight with one particular scene with Clint Eastwood that when I watch it now I know the background story of it.
“That was my favorite one,” he continued. “It was a small show, but because it was him. . . He was just wonderful to work with and everything. I think he never forgot who his fans were, and he has survived this long because of people like me who book him and still adore him.”
Now, Lormand and his son live on their own in a house nearby, and Lormand hopes that his son will attend Western Carolina as a student. With deep roots invested in the home of the Catamounts and the local community, Lormand does not plan moving again anytime in the future. Still, he will never forget the people who have entered his life, making an impact every time.
“One thing people ask, ‘In your 30-year career, did anybody make it?’ Because, a lot of times that’s how we’re judged,” said Lormand. “I said, ‘Yeah, there was a series on for nine years, ‘Touched by an Angel.’ Do you remember the Angel of Death, John Dye? When I was a graduate student, he was an undergraduate student. We were in two plays together, and we were good friends.’ John made it, and he died a couple of years ago.
“The second one,” he continued, “when I was in Tahlequah, and we were doing that series, ‘Downtown Country,'” said Lormand, “there was this young lady, beautiful blonde, and she was talented and she was very nice. She was from a small town in Oklahoma. And, I told her, ‘You are very talented. You need a break.'”
That “young lady” went on to win “American Idol.” Her name is Carrie Underwood.
For next year, Lormand and audience members of Galaxy of the Stars performances have four more exciting shows to look forward to in the line-up. “Smokey Joe’s CafÃ©” will perform on Sunday, Jan. 26. The Beatles tribute band 1964 arrives to town on Sunday, Feb. 9, as part of the 1960s theme for Western Carolina’s school year. The Squirm Burpee Circus is on Sunday, March 2. And, “The Fantasticks” ends the season at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 27. The musical will feature WCU alumnus Peter O’Neal.
Lormand has begun planning for the 2014-2015 season and will continue to bring diverse, entertaining shows for the Western Carolina student body and local communities of Jackson County. He wants to share his passion for the arts and his love of Western Carolina to everyone he meets. If you feel the same, stop by his office in the Bardo Arts Center. Ask him to tell you a story or two.