Shuler Hensley is taking a short break from “the thick of auditions” when we sit down for our interview. The current artistic director of City Springs Theatre Company is never long on time – in addition to this role, he’s an actor on and off Broadway and heavily involved with the Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards, better known as the Shuler Hensley Awards. Though he considers himself an actor first, the Georgia native is multi-talented – he played football and baseball in high school, all the while developing a fierce appreciation for the arts.
“My mom taught ballet, and I’d go to ballet classes in addition to playing sports,” he says. “It was a hard thing to navigate. Then, I went to Georgia on a baseball scholarship and sang in the men’s glee club.”
Hensley doggedly pursued all three – acting, singing and dancing — which, at the time, was quite rare, especially for an athlete from the South. Following college, Hensley headed to the Big Apple for training in music. “I attended the Manhattan School of Music, then the Curtis Institute of Music for my master’s,” he says. “I considered myself more of an actor who could also sing, but I wanted that classical training. That was in the early ‘90s. I’m 56 now, but I feel more like I’m in my late 20s. That’s what the arts can do for you!"
Later, dividing his time between shows in New York City and working on the theater awards show in Georgia, Hensley met Natalie DeLancey and learned that Sandy Springs would be starting its own theater company locally. “Sandy Springs never had their own venue and company, but they had always supported the arts,” he says. “I said I would love to be involved.”
Hensley initially came on board in 2018 as City Springs Theatre Company's Associate Artistic Director and then stepped into the full-time role of Artistic Director in 2021. He considers the position an ideal way to be “on both sides of the table” – understanding the point of view of those on the stage as well as those directing the production. “I get what the actors are going through because I am going through it with them,” he says.
This year, Hensley is directing Fiddler on the Roof, a classic musical that he insists is just right for 2023, thanks to its timeless themes. “All good theater is cyclical,” he says. “It's done at a certain time — then, as a society, we mature – and there’s always a moment when an old show comes back as relevant. Fiddler is about the breakdown of traditions and the relationships among generations and families – which is very current!”
As for his directing style, Hensley believes the right cast carries the show. “I worked on Oklahoma! with Trevor Nunn in London, and I remember our conversation about directing,” he says. “He told me probably 80% of good directing is casting — and if you cast the right people, they help you create the characters and the story.”
For tickets and more info, visit cityspringstheatre.com.