Scott Edmiston fondly remembers his roots.
"I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a small town and lucky to have caring teachers who nurtured my creativity as a young child," said Edmiston, who grew up on Broad Avenue in Altoona.
Today, Edmiston, 50, is an award-winning theater and opera director and founder and director of the Office of the Arts at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., about 10 miles northwest of Boston.
Scott Edmiston takes a break during rehearsals for “The History Boys,” which follows a group of history students preparing for Oxford and Cambridge examinations. The 2008 production received critical acclaim from The New York Times.
Scott Edmiston (second from left) catches up with his high school drama teacher, Nanette Anslinger (left) and Penn State professors Helen Manfull and Bill Kelly after receiving the College of Arts and Architecture Alumni Award in April.
Edmiston's first venture into theater was in fourth grade when he played Hansel in a production of "Hansel and Gretel" at the Altoona Area Public Library. A year later he founded his own "theater company."
"We put on plays and puppet shows at the library. The library gave me the opportunity to do that," Edmiston said.
Edmiston said he never thought of theater as a vocation. He just thought it was something to do. He said it wasn't until he was older that he realized it could be a career.
THE EDMISTON FILE
Name: Scott Edmiston
Education: Altoona Area High School, 1979; bachelor of fine arts degree from Penn State, 1983; master's degree in directing from Boston University, 1995
Position: Founder and director of the Office of the Arts, Brandeis University, Boston
Family: Spouse, Thom Miller; brother, Dixon Edmiston; and sister, Leslie Musselman of Altoona.
Quote: "Theater is a live event. You have to show up for the theater for it to happen. If you watch it on TV, it is not theater."
He said when he was a student at Altoona Area High School, he wanted to explore the visual arts - drawing and painting - but drifted into the theater arts. He said his drama teacher was Nanette Anslinger, and he considers her one of his mentors.
"She was very charismatic. I was drawn to her energy," he said. "She had a profound impact on my life."
Anslinger said Edmiston was dedicated to the AAHS theater program - known as the Lightwell Players.
"He was top-notch, a high achiever, always full of exciting ideas and a real leader even then. One of the things that made him so successful was his complete commitment to the group effort. He was not just interested in himself," Anslinger said.
After graduating from Altoona Area High School in 1979, Edmiston moved on to Penn State, which he said had a "great theater program."
"While there, I had some success as an actor but my instincts told me I was a director, not an actor," Edmiston said.
Professors Robert Leonard and Helen Manfull remember Edmiston well.
Leonard said Edmiston was very bright and a multi-talented actor and director.
"Scott always knew instinctively when to lead and when to follow. I directed him in a number of plays and loved working with him as an actor," Leonard said.
"As a student in class, he was always prepared and his work was consistently excellent," Leonard said.
Manfull said Edmiston's journey from student to director was initially not an easy one.
"It was not always smooth sailing, and because of this he found his humanity as a director. His compassion and respect for his actors is profound as he embraces a collaborative rather than a dictatorial process. He knows that the director doesn't do it alone," Manfull said.
This spring, Edmiston received the College of Arts and Architecture Alumni Award at Penn State.
"One of the most touching things about his recent visit to Penn State for the Alumni Award was his sense of humility and gratitude toward his former teachers and colleagues. He is incredibly generous, poised, articulate and very bright," Manfull said.
Edmiston graduated from Penn State in 1983 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater. He went to work at the Pennsylvania Staging Company, a professional theatre in Allentown.
"I went there as an intern and left as the artistic director. I started directing professionally there. That is where I grew up as a theater professional," Edmiston said.
In the early 1990s, he moved to New England. He said when he first saw Boston in 1991, he believed that was where he belonged.
Edmiston worked for the Huntingdon Theatre Company there and earned a master's degree in directing from Boston University in 1995.
In 2003, he moved to Brandeis and founded the Office of the Arts.
"The idea of an office of arts intrigued me. They wanted to increase participation in the arts on campus, the visual and performing arts. I was inspired by that idea," Edmiston said.
Marty W. Krauss, John Stein Professor of Disability Research in the The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, said Edmiston has played a key role at Brandeis.
"He has made the full scope of our arts programs much more visible and coordinated. He works well with the faculty, students and staff and has built the Office of the Arts into a critical function for the University," Krauss said. "He brought imagination, hard work and vision to the position and we have all benefited mightily."
Edmiston has directed more than 60 productions at theaters across the Greater Boston area.
The first opera he directed, "Nixon in China," was reviewed by the New York Times.
"That was very exciting. That was a turning moment - that I had arrived at a place in my career when you are reviewed by the New York Times," Edmiston said. "I've come to appreciate whether on Broadway, Boston or in Altoona, if you are working on a play and you are active with colleagues you enjoy and communicate to an audience and through art, strive to find some meaning in this imperfect world, that is all that matters."
Edmiston said his job at Brandeis enables him to pick and choose the plays he wants to direct.
He said he does not have an all-time favorite play, but he has a connection to each of them. He said "The History Boys," which follows a group of history students preparing for Oxford and Cambridge examinations, was a very meaningful play.
Edmiston also enjoys teaching. He said he was an associate professor in the College of Fine Arts at Boston University and taught dramatic arts at Brown University.
Edmiston has won numerous awards over the years.
Four of his productions have received Elliot Norton Awards as Outstanding Production, and he has received three Norton Awards and two Independent Reviewers of New England Awards for his direction. In 2011, he received the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence from the Boston Theater Critics Association.
"That was essentially a lifetime achievement award for your body of work. That was incredibly humbling and thrilling," Edmiston said.
Leonard and Anslinger said they are not surprised Edmiston has gone on to such a successful career.
"He has been a leader from the beginning and has the intelligence and talent to back it up. I can honestly say that I've never heard a single negative comment about Scott. He's one of those rare individuals that radiates sunshine and makes you feel the world's a better place," Leonard said.
"I could see this drive, this commitment to creativity in everything he did. He saw things others didn't see in projects, he drew people along with him in his success and endeavors," Anslinger said. "He has done so well at Brandeis and I am so proud of him."
Edmiston said he returns to Altoona once or twice a year.
"I miss Texas Hot Dogs and the old Value City. I used to shop there. Things I could buy there cost three times [as much] in Boston," Edmiston said. "I have happy memories of the Mishler Theatre and Altoona Area Public Library. They were homes to me. When in town, I will drive by and remember the history I had with them."
Edmiston said he hopes he has made a positive contribution.
"I hope that I have contributed to the cultural life of Boston in a long-term way and in a way that has benefited tens of thousands of people. I also hope I have been able to help people in a way that other people helped me," Edmiston said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.