Lakewood Playhouse has announced that John Munn can take the "temporary" off his title. He is now the theater's managing artistic director after a year of serving at the post. He took over the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit theater when former director Marcus Walker announced he had to step down to concentrate his efforts on battling cancer. Walker has since died, but the roadway in front of the theater now bears his name. His presence is still very much felt in the theater.
"I hear his laugh all the time in the joy that we feel," Munn said. "I feel a strong sense of strength in his words from the past as we try to work through some of the issues facing us now. Every now and then, I can catch a glimpse of his smile, and the mischief you could see in his eyes, while we're working on something that we just know will surprise our audiences in ways we haven't before. It feels like all is right here in the theater with us because his memory is such a part of our present. It's wonderful."
Walker was not only Munn's mentor but a dear friend as well, so Walker's legacy is never far from the theater.
"He, and several others, helped mold me into the director, and actor, that I am today," Munn laughed when asked about how he plans to personalize the theater programs. "So, if you're asking how I will 'Munn' the theater...I guess it's by informing my choices from the theatrical inspirations of my past...including Marcus. What Marcus, the staff and the board have made at the Lakewood Playhouse is a path that's working really well. If you take a look at our current season, you will see a lot of the same things that have proven successful in previous seasons."
This season has a mix of literary works in "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Oliver," alongside classic comedies "Play it Again, Sam," "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" and the musical "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum." Tossed in for good measure is a selection of new works that push the envelope, namely the upcoming "The Farnsworth Invention."
"I just want to continue down the path that's already been built, while widening its expectations… all the while looking towards the horizon of possibility that the Playhouse continues to explore," Munn said. "It's a well-known fact that our theater presents well-known works, as well as newer ones, in a way that is both modern in its approach and connects to our growing audience in a current context. No one else locally can take you inside the show the way that we can because sometimes, literally, we'll pull you inside the story."
That audience connection to the play comes courtesy of the theater's in-the-round seating system, where playgoers can view the stage from all sides.
Munn was born and raised in Tacoma and graduated from Charles Wright Academy. He attended the University of LaVerne in California and Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland.
He started his theatrical career in the Young Actor's Program at Tacoma Little Theatre when he was 8 years old. This year marks the 30-year anniversary of his acting debut at the Lakewood Playhouse, during a production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." It is also his 15th anniversary as a director for the Playhouse.
Munn has some 100 local stage productions to his credit and has served on the boards of Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre.
He is also the founder and CEO of Comic Book Ink, a nine-year-old award-winning comic shop located in Lakewood. He will be working days at the theater and nights in the back office at the shop. And of course, there is work to maintain the back-and-forth relationships among the other community theaters as they pool resources, share ideas and simply support local theater at whatever stage it finds itself.
"I think the roots are already there," Munn said. "I think people like Marcus, Jon Douglas Rake, Scott Campbell, Judy Cullen, Charlotte Tiencken and David Fischer have always tried hard to unite the theaters in the past. In some ways, they already have. I know that they used to get together all the time, schedules permitting, and try to find common ground to create new worlds in. You have two people around already, in Jon and David, who have a strong sense of community. You also have a strong community, strong with the board, and Brie Yost, at the Tacoma Little Theatre. I also have a strong sense of community...and family. I think we can come together and make this work by sharing ideas, resources and plans to try and make a more cohesive mosaic within the tapestry of the arts that already exists within our community. We just need to get together and explore the possibilities."