George Tzougros ’83 knows what it’s like to be passionate about the arts. Since 1996, he’s served as the executive director of the Wisconsin Arts Board, which promotes the arts and supports arts in education. Tzougros’ work recently earned him a Michael Newton Award from Americans for the Arts, which is based in New York and Washington, D.C.
The award recognizes an individual for innovation in developing arts and business partnerships for the arts and/or long-term achievement in effective and creative techniques to engage the private sector.
A theatre arts major who minored in business and organizational communications, Tzougros has many fond memories of Carroll. “We were the first class in the Ottesen Theatre, so we felt like we owned the joint,” he recalled.
His favorite production was “1776,” in which he played Dr. Lyman Hall, a delegate from Georgia. “Because we were mixed in with alums of the program, we were able to act with some really wonderful people, and the show was good,” Tzougros said.
Among the things he treasured most about Carroll was “its size and the ability of underclassmen to get right in, roll up their sleeves and get on the main stage. That doesn’t happen in bigger schools. At Carroll, I was able to be in shows, design, build and house-manage shows and learn all aspects of the business, which is very cool.”
Professors whom he remembers include David Molthen and Wayne Christensen, known as “Chris.” “They had a profound impact on me,” he said.
Tzougros loved theater long before he attended Carroll, however. “It started in eighth grade at Horning Middle School. Waukesha South needed two kids to play in the ‘King and I,’ and it started me on the path,” he recalled. “What really sent me over the edge was the show ‘Minnie’s Boys.’ I was in 10th grade, it was about the Marx brothers, and I played Groucho. That is where the bug bit, and bit hard.”
But it’s Carroll that merits a place in Tzougros’ list of career highlights. “I had the honor of being the Carroll Players’ president and was very proud of that,” he said. “The Michael Newton Award now is a highlight, and right behind that is being asked to serve on the board of Arts Midwest, a nine-state regional arts organization.”
His recommendation for students currently studying the arts: “Connect with alums in that particular business, whether it’s theater, art or music, and talk to them about the path they took, because no two paths are the same. Get experience if you can. In our case, we started a theater company. Or you could intern. Chris used to say; you can always be an actor, but as an actor with technical skills, you’re going to get hired. The more well-rounded you can be, it’s important.”
He said his role on the Wisconsin Arts Board has been extremely satisfying. “It’s really interesting work. Over the years, we’ve produced a folklife festival celebrating the state’s sesquicentennial and also brought organizations into being like Film Wisconsin, and we cofounded the Wisconsin Science Festival. I’m able to do that kind of work and chair the National Creativity Network,” Tzougros said. “You can see that, from this little place, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of things that make a lot of difference.”
Did you know? The Carroll Players, the brainchild of then-professor May Rankin, first hit the stage in 1896, establishing them as the first student theatre organization in Wisconsin.