Ernie Zulia exits Hollins College stage to organize for subsequent act | Leisure

Originally from Ohio, Zulia first got involved in the Roanoke theater scene in the summer of 1976 when he came straight from college in western New York to play on the summer shows at the Mill Mountain Playhouse. At the time, the theater company was still producing its productions at the Rockledge Inn on Mill Mountain. In October of that year, the Rockledge Inn burned down as a result of arson.

The theater insisted, however, moved into the empty Grandin Theater and started the “Phoenix Season” in the summer of 1977 with a smash production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, which included Zulia.

A decade later, after earning a Masters of Fine Arts from Northwestern University, Zulia moved to Roanoke and became assistant artistic director of the Mill Mountain Theater. Zulia and collaborator David Caldwell worked under the longtime artistic director of MMT, Jere Hodgin, and adapted Robert Fulghum’s bestseller “Everything I really need to know, what I learned in kindergarten” for the stage. Shortly after a world premiere in Mill Mountain, Zulia left Roanoke to conduct the piece around the world.

By 2004 he returned to Roanoke to direct and teach as a visiting artist at Hollins – and was eventually hired as chairman of the theater department. Zulia recruited Todd Ristau, founder of Hollins Playwright’s Lab, to the faculty and created the Hollins Theater Institute as the umbrella for the department’s undergraduate and graduate programs. A $ 3 million gift from the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation allowed Zulia to oversee a major renovation and upgrade of the university’s 97-year-old theater.