UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 16 Winter 23 Library
Drama professor Steven L. Warner was a theater production specialist who managed the operations of UVA's Culbreth, Helms and Ruth Caplin Theatres and supervised dozens of productions for the University's summer Heritage Theatre Festival. Photo by Michael Bailey

In Memoriam Steve Warner

On Sunday, December 4, friends, family members, colleagues, basketball buddies, students, and others gathered in Culbreth Theatre to remember Steve Warner and to share stories of a remarkable life cut far too short.

On Sunday, December 4, friends, family members, colleagues, basketball buddies, students, and others gathered in Culbreth Theatre to remember Steve Warner and to share stories of a remarkable life cut far too short. Steve, who arrived on UVA Grounds to take the job of Technical Director sixteen years ago, passed away on November 3 at UVA Medical Center from a brief-but-devastating heart condition. He was just 52 years old.

Speaker after speaker that afternoon shared stories and remembrances. The people represented different parts of his life, yet their words were all tied together with common threads: endless kindness and boundless enthusiasm, remarkable abilities and profound humility, outsized strength and calming quiet.  

Steve Warner: Celebration of an Amazing Life

Watch the amazing love and celebration of Steve's life!

Steve’s road to UVA was paved with clown noses and hard work. He joined the Drama Department after several years with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and Cirque du Soleil, where he worked in high-level production management positions with several shows, including “O” in Las Vegas. It was there he caught the eye of LaVahn Hoh (UVA professor emeritus, Circus History), who told him about the Technical Director opening here. Over his sixteen years, Steve worked in Technical Direction and Operations/Production Management, and managed operations of the Culbreth, Helms, and Ruth Caplin Theatres. Steve earned the department a Virginia Safety Star Award, offered technical supervision on dozens of theatrical productions, taught multiple courses, and helped launch many theatrical careers. 

Perhaps above all else, Steve was a passionate and enthusiastic teacher, with courses including “Scenic Technology” and his beloved “Art of the Creature,” on which he partnered with the Stan Winston School of Character Art (named after the late Stan Winston, a pioneering special effects expert, and proud UVA alum), and from which he launched the 2013 Festival of the Moving Creature, a collaborative effort that brought together the Department of Drama, School of Architecture, Department of Studio Art, and the Stan Winston School of Character Art to conceptualize, build, and parade a spectacular assortment of creatures to an all-day festival on Nameless Field. 

Steve was also the force behind “Hallowheels,” a collaboration with Charlottesville not-for-profit Bennett’s Village in which he and his students worked closely with students and their families to build mobile Halloween costumes for local disabled children that would allow them to enjoy a holiday from which they had largely been excluded.  

There is no doubt that Steve’s body of work was impressive, but if you knew him, or if you had a chance to hear the speakers that day, you saw that Steve was about a lot more than the things he did. His true legacy lies in how he did them. 

Cheering on others came naturally to Steve, from students working on projects and productions to alums trying to land that perfect job to colleagues publishing new works or even to buddies from his beloved Sunday morning basketball games. John Freeman, the Voice of the Cavaliers, shared that Steve would even compliment how well a teammate had shot an airball.  

Steve never cheered harder or loved anyone more than his wife Bri, with whom he shared a love story for the ages, and their son Alex, whom he spent endless hours mentoring, and learning from while refurbishing 1970’s cars. They were the lights of his life, and their loss is as immeasurable as the love sent back their way on that December afternoon from so many whose lives were touched and changed by Steve Warner. 

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