The director of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, Alan Inkles typically goes the extra mile for his audience, staff and entertainers.
He had been trying to book Ward Melville High School alumnus and comedic film star Kevin James to bring his talents home to Stony Brook, where Long Islanders could laugh with the star of the “Paul Blart” movies and the TV show “The King of Queens.”
Unsuccessful but undeterred, Inkles attended a showing of “A Christmas Carol,” where James was performing.
“He goes backstage to meet him, starts up a conversation and says, ‘We’d love to have you come here,’” said Kent Marks, Stony Brook Film Festival coordinator and contracts administrator at the Staller Center. James reacted favorably to Inkles and to the idea. When Stony Brook publicized the show for Jan. 27 next year, tickets sold out in a few hours. James agreed to do a second show Jan. 28, which also quickly sold out.
Co-workers, collaborators and artists appreciate Inkles’ charm, his personal touch and his vision for an arts center that has become a favorite not only for the renowned Emerson String Quartet, which is based at SBU, but also for the prestigious film festival, which Inkles started.
For guiding the Staller Center since 1995, including through the recent years when COVID-19 limited the ability to hold live performances, and for his tireless work bringing a range of performers to appreciative audiences, TBR News Media is pleased to name Inkles a Person of the Year for 2022.
Former SBU president Shirley Kenny saw the talent and determination in Inkles when she named him director of the Staller Center.
Even though Inkles was “just a kid,” Kenny said she thought “he’d be terrific,” adding, “I feel really smug because he has been so extraordinary.”
One of those guys that jumps in
Inkles has shown a readiness to deploy his charm with donors, to greet guests before performances and to help with whatever is needed.
In 2018, during a ballet performance from the Parsons Dance Company, another dancer cut the eyelid of dancer Geena Pacareu. After Pacareu went onstage for a pas de deux with her partner, she came backstage and was “lying face down, bleeding,” said Margaret Selby, the founder of Selby/Artists MGMT, an arts management company.
Inkles went backstage and told the dancer he was taking her to a hospital. He stayed with her until medical staff took care of the injury.
“Inkles is one of those guys that jumps in and does what has to be done,” Selby said.
Phil Setzer, professor of Violin in the Department of Music at SBU and founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, recalled how Inkles had booked the quartet to perform “Shostakovich and the Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy.” Inkles traveled to Princeton, New Jersey, to watch the show.
“He didn’t have to do that,” Setzer said. “He had already committed to doing it at Stony Brook.”
Setzer recalled how Inkles came backstage to speak with the performers after a show that ends sadly. Inkles was moved by the performance and wasn’t “all smiley and cheery,” the violinist said. “That, to me, was real.”
Despite his numerous accomplishments, Inkles readily and regularly shares credit with many of his long-standing and loyal staff. His team appreciates his self-deprecating humor.
Years ago, the Staller Center featured actor and stand-up comedian Kevin Pollak, who has been part of the supporting cast of the movies “A Few Good Men,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Grumpy Old Men” and also appeared in the sitcom “Mom,” as well as other films and TV shows.
Inkles had been walking around the stage prior to the performance and saw a plastic rose. Thinking this was a leftover from an earlier production, Inkles took it away.
Before he performed, Pollak, who was already annoyed because a rising comedic star named Ellen DeGeneres warmed up the audience too effectively, noticed that the rose, which was a prop for his show,
Pollak demanded to know what happened to the rose. A member of the crew found it and Pollak performed.
Marks said Inkles readily acknowledged that he created the problem and tells this story to show how he learned the hard way “to stay out of it.”. Inkles has said his team “knows what they’re doing and I trust them.”
Inkles is often prepared with a humorous story or response to an event, which helps him engage with anyone.
Setzer recalled how Inkles came into a room in December with a cast on his arm. When Setzer asked what happened, Inkles said, “Well, I was hanging Christmas decorations on my house and the ladder slipped, and I fell and broke my arm.”
Inkles, who had a pouty look as he told the story, got quiet for a moment, building the suspense.
“That was payback for a Jewish guy putting up Christmas decorations,” Inkles said, sending the room into hysterics.
Trusted leader and boss
Inkles has established a level of trust with the community.
“He’s always looked out for everybody’s safety and well-being,” Setzer said. “If Alan Inkles says it’s safe to come back to the Staller with masks on, and that we can keep the air circulating, then it’s safe to come back. A lot of people trust him.”
Setzer enjoys a personal and professional connection with Inkles. The day after each concert, the two of them go to the Founders Room, discuss the prior evening and share a drink of bourbon.
Inkles has demonstrated a similar camaraderie and connection with his staff and other performers.
Daria Carioscia, development director at the Staller Center, described Inkles as “the best gift giver.” He has purchased items like a remote control car for her son, who, Carioscia said, reminds Inkles of his middle child.
Carioscia recalled how she was in the office one day, frustrated by a malfunctioning keyboard. Inkles asked her what the problem was, told her to “hold on” and reappeared with a new keyboard.
Inkles encourages SBU students to get tickets early for performances that appeal to them.
Paul Newland, outreach director at the Staller Center, also appreciates the resources Inkles has put into bringing students from Long Island to the center.
The outreach goal, which Newland said Inkles supports, is to create a spark among younger audiences that helps them develop an appreciation for and an interest in the arts.
A film festival, with a personal touch
One of the reasons the Stony Brook Film Festival has become such an appealing venue for movie makers is the format.
Inkles wanted to provide filmmakers with a personal touch, offering features on the main stage.
Inkles makes sure the team picks up out-of-town guests at the airport, takes them to hotel rooms, provides publicity through social media, supplies dinner and arranges transportation to after-parties.
Celebrities, some of whom have become friends with Inkles, appreciate his work.
Inkles is “generous to a fault to the participants,” explained actor Brian Cox, who is on the advisory board for the festival. Inkles is “equally generous to the audience. I’ve never known a festival where so much love is generated toward the actual director of the festival.”
“Karate Kid” and “Cobra Kai” actor Ralph Macchio suggested Inkles’ “passion for the arts and film is unparalleled and his thriving spirit for the Stony Brook Film Festival is infectious.”
Arts management agent Selby suggested that “no one goes to his venue on the artistic side without knowing who he is.”
She said audiences and artists trust him and that the community is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he brings in new talent.
“I wish we could clone him,” Selby said.