Longtime UT theater professor Vicinus diesWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
Charles “Chuck” Vicinus directed 198 shows during his career. His Sept. 30 death means he will fall two plays shy of 200, his personal career goal.
Vicinus, professor emeritus of theatre at the University of Toledo, where he dircted more than 100 of those plays, died in his Holderness, New Hampshire summer home at the age of 80. He was recovering from an Aug. 19 open heart surgery and appeared to be on the mend, his wife Joan said.
Vicinus had just returned from a road trip to New York City to visit his daughter, Julia Fowler. The two saw a performance Sept. 29 by one of Chuck’s favorite singers, Barbara Cook with Michael Feinstein, at Feinstein’s nightclub at Loew’s Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. He drove back to New Hampshire after a lunch meeting with a former student on Sept. 30.
Joan was at home in Toledo when she said Chuck called her around 8 p.m. to let her know he was home safely from New York City, but he was tired and was going to bed. When Joan called the next day, there was no answer.
“It was presumably a heart attack,” Joan said.
Married for 49 years, Joan and Chuck met in Yellow Springs, Ohio. A graduate from Antioch College, Vicinus served in the Navy before he returned to Yellow Springs to work at the Antioch Press. After he was asked to run a small theater outside of Dayton, Vicinus realized his passion for the dramatic arts and went back to school. He received his MFA from Yale Drama School and went on to teach at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., Florida Atlantic University and SUNY Stony Brook before joining the staff at UT in 1978.
Vicinus’ initial project was launching Summerstage in 1979, which quickly became a smash hit. He went on to become chair of the Department of Theatre and Film for six years.
Jennifer Rockwood, director of UT’s First Year Experience and faculty member of the Department of Theatre and Film, was a student when Vicinus first came to Toledo.
“I was his student and then his colleague and we were office mates for years,” Rockwood said.
The two directed the Governor’s Gifted Summer Institute for 13 years, which provided Ohio students the chance to act in Shakespeare plays. According to Rockwood, many of Vicinus’ students went on to professional acting and directing careers.
“He was a great colleague and a fabulous mentor,” Rockwood said. “He was very personal with each student, and let you call him by his first name. There are many talented people out there thanks to Chuck.”
The last show Vicinus directed for UT, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” was one of the first shows to appear at the old Valentine Theater when it reopened 10 years ago. According to UT Theatre Department Chair Holly Monsos, Vicinus continued to work after he was named a professor emeritus and retired in 2000. Monsos said she met Vicinus when she started working at the university 19 years ago.
“Chuck was passionate about theater, and taught acting and directing. He was an amazing man,” Monsos said. “I’m still a little in shock.”
Ray Wohl, one of Vicinus’ first students at UT who now lives in Chicago, wrote in a tribute: “Chuck Vicinus was a positive creative force of nature in our lives. His spirit endures long after our mutual association … Chuck cried at rehearsal and laughed out loud during performances. He was compassionate, encouraging, professional, dedicated, wise, kind, and a friend.”
“He loved working with students,” Joan said. “He loved teaching and he stayed in touch with a lot of his former students.”
In addition to directing SummerStage in collaboration with the city of Toledo, Vicinus was involved with the American College Theatre Festival at the state and national level. He helped create the Performing Arts Council of Toledo (PACT) and was co-artistic director from 1994 to 2002 of the First Night Toledo program, which was performed Downtown on New Year’s Eve. He continued to serve on the board of the Toledo Repertoire Theatre.
Joan said Chuck would want to be remembered most for loving his students, his five grandchildren, his daughter Julia Fowler and son, Adam Vicinus, 37. A photography buff, Chuck traveled extensively to England, Japan, Russia and France with Joan. The couple has especially fond memories of Florence, Italy and of their log home in New Hampshire, which Vicinus helped to construct.
After purchasing the land in 1971, construction began in 1986 of what Joan termed a “very enhanced log cabin.” At the time, Joan was working in Toledo while Chuck completed most of the interior work to the home in New Hampshire.
“I had not seen the house, and I was walking down the path,” Joan said, describing one of her favorite memories of her husband. “The look of pride of his face of ‘Look what I’ve done’ as he was walking down the path to greet me. It’s a fantastic house right on the lake.”
“It’s in and out right now,” Joan said of how she’s handling the shock. “It was totally unexpected … his heart was on the mend.”
Vicinus directed his 198th show, “Lurid Love in Luristan,” at the end of July 2010 at The Little Church Theater in Holderness, New Hampshire.
“He was very proud of the fact that he directed so much,” Joan said.
However, one of Joan Vicinus’ favorite memories of her late husband was on stage, not off it. Chuck played the role of Dr. Martin Dysart, a child psychiatrist, in UT’s production of “Equus.”
“He had a terrible time remembering lines. He was probably close to 70,” Joan said. “It amazed me that he could do it.”
Funeral and memorial arrangements for Vicinus are pending.