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'Matilda' is Scott Spence's 100th Beck Center Production

Since joining the Beck Center for the Arts staff in 1990, Scott Spence has made his mark at the Lakewood theater.

The Nebraska native came to Cleveland on a whim in the late 80's after some friends told him about the city's reputation for arts and culture.

"I thought, 'you know what? let's roll those dice.'  I moved here in 1989 and through a series of events found myself at the Beck Center within about a year," Spence said.

Scott Spence [Beck Center]

After a two-year stint as associate artistic director, Spence became the Beck Center's artistic director in 1992.

This month the Beck Center raised the curtain on Spence's 100th production, "Matilda the Musical," based on the Roald Dahl book. 

Looking back Spence isn't totally surprised by his longevity.

"The Beck Center was what I was looking for at the time in 1990 - a large scale civic theater," he said.  "It's a home and I've really enjoyed it. I've never for a moment really considered looking elsewhere."

Scott Spence in the 1990-91 Beck Center production of "The Boys Next Door." [Beck Center]

Spence says that his long tenure is due in part to a go-slow approach.

"I didn't want to jar the current sensibilities, so I wanted to say: 'Let's move slowly and at your comfort rate.' Over the years there've been times when they prompted me to say: 'Hey, are you ready? Do you want to go a little further?'" he said. "We all decided we were ready together. I think that's added a comfort factor."

During his almost thee decades with the Beck Center, Spence has developed a reputation for staging daring musicals during the summer, like "American Idiot" featuring the punk rock music of Green Day.

"American Idiot" Beck Center 2015 [Beck Center]

"Every artistic director out there wants to insure tomorrow's audience. If we're not paying attention to shows that are going to intrigue younger audiences and try to get them in the fold for later on in life, we're making a mistake," he said.

Lakewood has been the perfect artistic home for Spence.

"I think Lakewood is very proud of the Beck Center. Beck Center is very proud to be in Lakewood, that's for sure," he said.

But during Spence's time leading the Beck Center's theater department the artistic footprint has expanded, so it's no longer a Lakewood-only institution.

"Matilda the Musical" cast [Andy Dudik]

"For 'Matilda,' our current show, we have kids coming from Findlay, that's two hours and ten minutes to drive each way, Youngstown, North Canton, and Chagrin Falls," he said.  "So we're reaching out our tendrils not just to audience but performers as well, where people want to come work with us," he said.

Scott Spence and ideastream's Dan Polletta [ideastream]

"Matilda the Musical" is onstage at the Beck Center for the Arts through Sunday, August 11.



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