Walking the line: Impresario Harris balances "fun and insanity"

"There's a fine line between fun and insanity, and that line constantly moves," jokes Greg Harris as we talk about the upcoming production of the New Lyric Theater's The Gondoliers, which opens in January.

The production will mark an anniversary for NLT: four shows in four years. Harris founded NLT in the spring of 2000 primarily because he wanted to produce Gilbert and Sullivan's classic Pirates of Penzance. After shopping it around– he suggested the show to Live Arts and to the Heritage Repertory Company at UVA– and finding little interest, he decided to "take the plunge," start his own company, and stage the show himself.

"Charlottesville needs Gilbert & Sullivan," Harris says. "This town likes that stuff, and we're happy to become its only full-service G & S provider."

Harris, 38, a classically trained pianist and organist, is also an accompanist and conductor who has lent his talent to every theater company in town, both as a musician and as a musical director. So the leap to producer wasn't huge.

"I really wanted to do Pirates after seeing the national production," he says. "You need a proscenium space and an orchestra pit, though."

Those things are hard to find in Charlottesville, so when Piedmont Community College opened its new proscenium theater in 1998, Harris recognized an opportunity.

"I credit John Carden– a well-known local performer–for putting the pieces together. He suggested PVCC and Gweneth West as a director. With an artistic director, a space, and a show, the rest was business and organization," he admits.

No stranger to business and organization (in his day job, he works at UVA's Darden School), Harris pulled the show together in a few months, and it opened to enthusiastic crowds. West directed and designed the costumes; Carden played one of the leading roles; and Harris provided musical direction.

"The key is having fun," says Harris. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are often silly; the music is challenging, but comic, and the plots bellow melodrama. There's an element of built-in fun.

"Actors sometimes show up at rehearsals in a lousy mood, but two hours later, they are feeling different. If we can affect our audiences in a similar way, we'll be doing o.k.," Harris says.

Maintaining the momentum that he's already established is Harris' first goal. He can imagine producing two shows each year, though; he believes that could happen as early as 2003.

"There's room for more, and we are open to other ideas. I like it when people ask me about the next thing we're doing. It shows they have expectations of NLT. Now, that's fun," he says with satisfaction.