Alum spotlight: Blair Russell (BFA ’12)

collage of photos blair with his parents and at shows

Blair Russell (BFA, Stage Management, 2012)

When Blair was in middle and high school, “performing was my least favorite part of theatre. I was focused on where props go and was actually in the chorus while trying to call cues. I didn’t know what a stage manager was, but when I read about VCU’s program, everything they listed was what I’d done.”

Blair performing in VCU’s No Shame Variety Show

In addition to stage managing shows at VCU, he also worked in a VCU partnership with Virginia Rep (then called Theatre IV) when Barksdale Theatre was at Willow Lawn. In Blair’s last semester at VCU, he created his own independent study program that allowed him to work in an apprenticeship for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

v c u students on stage
Blair was PSM for The Bluest Eye, a VCU and Barksdale production staged in Hodges.

After graduating, Blair continued to stage manage at Santa Fe Opera and for Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity in Vegas. Later, he went to work for the acclaimed Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut, which got him close to NYC.

two people dressed in black sitting on steps and smiling
Blair at the Santa Fe Opera House as an Orchestra Services Apprentice. He got the job through an SETC convention.
Blair and other tech majors traveling to SETC in Atlanta, 2011.

Eventually Blaire moved into the producing office at Goodspeed, “because I was tired working nights and weekends 6 days a week.” About two years later, he went to work with Jordan Roth, President of Jujamcyn Theatres, which owns five Broadway houses, “I got experience in real estate in commercial theatre, which is very important to know as a producer.”

Blair co- produced a staged reading of The Circus in Winter as part of the Circle Series, presented by Pigasus Institute.

Ultimately, Blair decided “to be a big boy producer.” His first major project was as a co-producer on Slave Play, which broke the record with 12 Tony nominations, the most for a non-musical.

Blair and his husband Nicolo Nisbett at the opening of Slave Play

During COVID, Blair has expanded into virtual and extended reality productions. He’s working with Out of the Box Theatrics on a live-streamed version of The Last Five Years that will be set in an actual New York apartment. It features Nasia Thomas (Aint Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations) and Nicholas Edwards (Frozen), with the band also in the space.

In Blair’s continued efforts to expand the theatrical experience, he’s working on Resounding, a live immersive audio play with a “3D” soundscape. It starts April 23. He has other exciting announcements coming soon. “I like creative, interesting off-the-beaten-path shows.”

In a cool coincidence, Blair worked with Mary Hodges  (BFA 94) who was the Assistant Director on Slave Play. They didn’t realize they were both VCU grads until they saw the announcements in the November 2020 Callboard!

Blair outside Hodges after what must have been “a very long rehearsal”
Blair and stage management majors at one of the TheatreVCU student balls

Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the March 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.