Steven Stolen: Music, curiosity and balance 

Steven Stolen is able to maintain a diverse daily schedule and career path because he is profoundly focused.

"It's about energy, not time," he says.

We sit in his Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT) office overlooking the hub of Washington Street and Indianapolis Artsgarden. Will people passing by be enticed to stop in his building, perhaps consider coming to a performance? Building audience is a major part of his position as managing director for the IRT.

Today, he's planning on attending the dress rehearsal of a new production of "The Diary of Anne Frank." (See our review section for a review of that show.)

Also awaiting his attention is Stolen Moments, his weekly WFYI-FM 90.1 program that airs Sundays at 6 p.m. and rebroadcasts Wednesdays at 10 p.m. This is his 18th season as a radio host, having premiered with Opera Matinee in 1993.

Finally, on the chair in front of his desk is a copy of the score of Elvis Costello's The Juliet Letters that he's rehearsing for presentation on Jan. 30 in his 14th season of Music at Trinity: The Meridian Song Project [see infobox].

Stolen, though, appears unaffected by these demands surrounding him. He's concentrating on us here and now. No clock is in sight in his sofa, soft chair and book-filled space. He's most comfortable talking about what he loves most — people.

A people person

"It's always about people. If you get that part right, the 'stuff' will fall into place," he says. "We try to connect with everybody at every opportunity. For me, being energized and meeting more people is more important than earning an MBA to be a certified administrator. Instead of being in a class I'm at the door saying, 'Thank you for coming,' and listening to what audience members are saying.

"We're offering Sun King to our patrons now," Stolen continues, "because you mentioned you'd prefer having an Indiana beer as a bar choice. I enjoyed making the connection. The liveliness of our craft beer culture with people being willing to try different things: That's what we're about here at IRT. There's something exciting about going to a craft beer tasting with the mix of people."

Stolen pauses to reflect, then adds, "Sports have the ability to attract thousands. Culturally, 500 people in Indianapolis won't show up as walk-ins for a theatre performance. It's a tireless effort but you have to keep asking, 'Who are we missing?' 'How can we connect?' Cliché aside, I'm a people person."

For Stolen, making the IRT a relaxing, welcoming place was essential to his taking on the co-CEO role with artistic director Janet Allen.

"The idea of re-doing the front entrance of the IRT was not new in 2006 when I came. I simply believed I could help energize the plan because I believed it was about the community as a whole to reveal the original windows and the ceiling that had been covered up in the entryway. It was giving back to the people the original beauty of a historic building and to think about how people feel when they come in, to afford them a natural flow from the ticket office to the choice of spaces, main stage, upper stage, Cabaret, Indiana Roof Ballroom. It's a building that really matters to people who live here so we now have soft places for people to sit.

"We want them to come off the Cultural Trail and find this is a respite even if they don't buy tickets for performances," Stolen emphasizes. "It's their place, so we're welcoming them. Now it seems natural, as if it has always been this way. If you get it to feel right, it's probably right. It's neat to have that chance to do something beneficial right out of the box when you come into an organization."

Music, curiosity and balance

Stolen shows me books he's now reading, has read, or plans to read. A favorite of his is the simple philosophy of Mr. Rogers, "You are special. I like you the way you are," with the clear understanding that 'the way you are' has growth potential and is at the core of what propels Stolen's multiplicity of activities.

"The musician in me feeds the other things I do," he says. "When I got into fund raising I learned that the skill sets for singing and preparing for a performance are the same I needed for working in an office. When I left the classroom and studio as a teacher and vocal coach for 'a suit and tie job,' I simply transferred the work ethic of a musician. It's about being prepared and staying out of the way to allow people to connect with what it is you are offering them.

"I always feel there is a chance to do more," Stolen says. "I'm always on the move, not waiting for "it" to come to me. If I am going to do it again, how can I do it differently to make it more interesting, to connect better? Music is a lot about perfection, but it's never perfect."

Stolen surveys his space, gesturing to the eclectic collection of memorabilia on shelves, none of which pertains to music. "My kind of loosey-goosey nature seems in conflict with music's quest for perfection, but you can't plan emotions. You have to be prepared, lay it out there, be your unique self. Until it's revealed by someone else telling you, you don't know if you've connected."

He points to a painting by local artist Lois Main Templeton, hanging in his office.

"Until I saw this and wanted to have it here, Lois had no way of knowing if her work meant anything to someone else. She painted what she felt and her honesty connected with how I see things."

He says it's Templeton's act of breaking free from boxes that entices him.

"I'm hopelessly curious," he admits. "Worrying makes you tentative, afraid. When I think I've made a mistake, I have an opportunity to make something exciting. I can decide, will it mess up my day or will it be a chance to connect, a chance to say, 'I'm sorry.'

"If people realize you are authentic, they'll tune in next week, come back for another production. The biggest challenge comes with how you keep in balance and manage priorities. I work for 60-90 minutes intensively on one priority, take a break, recharge and move on. It's not multitasking that gets things done. It's focus. It's being who you are."

Stolen interweaves performing, teaching, administration and parenting, which he considers primary.

"I'm always open to ideas that motivate me but I'm not swayed into being tied to a calculator. What's really important is people.

"If a child is sick, go home. The meeting can wait. If it's not perfect we're getting it as close to perfect as possible. Art is about moving forward, changing lives. The art of life is momentum, what you are taking to the next adventure."

Telling our stories

Stolen is ecstatic about working with the Indianapolis-based Alexander String Quartet to present the immensely challenging Juliet Letters, created by the British rock singer and songwriter Elvis Costello that premiered in 1993 with the classically trained Brodsky Quartet. The cycle of twenty songs of an imaginary set of letters to Juliet Capulet blends classical and popular with string accompaniment.

Stolen feels he's sharing a special part of himself. "While this was not written specifically for me, it is a work for someone like me, fitting into my voice and soul. It is a gift to present it in the warmth of Trinity.

"This is part of what I feel grounds us, what keeps us in balance and keeps us going. It's telling our stories, connecting with each other on a personal level."

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