Jamie Gahlon has asked theatre artists from around the country to talk about their personal search for an artistic home. Molly Smith continues this series.
What makes an artistic home?
I have always felt at home in the theatre and the rehearsal hall. It doesn't seem to matter where—in Washington, Bali or Russia. The hum of tech, the hush of anticipation from an audience, the bright lights and dark silences all welcome me back every time. In Hungary or Juneau, the feeling is the same—the smell of sweat, of work being done—the energy of the art that is being created.
And yet, theatre is my mistress. I need to dress up for her. I am on my best behavior with her. She demands talent, perseverance, strength, and fire. And I always feel a bit wicked in her presence. The theatre is familial—but not family. It’s made up of friends, collaborators and adversaries, but not family. Family—well, they are the ones who always have to take you in. Family accepts you as you are. Theatre welcomes you at your best. Maybe I feel this way because people in theatre share a particular ethos. We're driven by some of the same ideas regardless of the size of our audiences; the public act of storytelling.
Where and how did you find yours and what does it mean to you?
Many of the things that I cherish so much about in Washington, DC are the same things that drew me to Alaska. It may seem odd to even consider comparing the two: tiny little Juneau and the seat of Federal Government—but when you think about what truly matters, what makes a place a home, they are the same. Both have striking natural beauty, commitment to the arts and, most importantly, a strong sense of community. I count myself lucky to have been able to spend my life between these two places.
My time in DC has been very rich; very full. My love of the area, the neighborhoods, and life as a Washingtonian has grown with each year. I love the amazing arts offerings here. I truly believe Washington is not just the political capital, is it also a cultural capital—I would love for DC to be recognized as a cultural capital of the country. Indeed, we’ve been invisible as a theatre town even though more than seventy theatres make their home here. Not only is there a large, intelligent audience base, but there is a great diversity of experts and professionals, making this a unique city for theatre.
How can one create and/or build an artistic home for others?
One of Arena’s core values is to create a work culture that reflects the rehearsal hall in areas of collaboration, trust, risk and working towards a single vision. Do we always succeed? God no, but that’s the joy of having a purpose that’s always larger than who we are. As we were designing the Mead Center, I wanted to create spaces for groups to gather. Theatre is a collaborative art form, yet the dynamics of theatre professionals are odd. Artisans working in the shops tend to cluster together in one corner, administrative staff cluster in another, and actors, directors, designers cluster in yet another. The art exists because of the efforts of all these professionals as a team. That is why I wanted a kitchen with big long tables and industrial appliances for everyone to gather, talk, eat lunch—the kitchen is the heart of a home. People gravitate there. Problems are solved in kitchens.
We also created a shared lobby between our three theatres—our three “houses”—where visitors could see each other, mingle and share. The space is not just for waiting. It’s a place where people can be excited about the show they’re going to see and jealous about the show they haven’t yet seen. It is a place to engage with themes being presented on stage through interactive displays, to come early and stay late—and take the storytelling to the next level.
What is the the artistic home of the future?
Arena Stage was one of the first homes for the American Theatre movement, thanks to the fertile imagination of Zelda and Tom Fichandler, Ed Mangum and their group of friends. They believed that great theatre could happen in communities all around America, and started a revolution. Sixty years later, an artist can travel across town or across the country and find their home in the rehearsal rooms in every city in America. Over 300 artists come to Arena each year: writers, actors, directors, designers. Arena Stage’s legacy is to insure that there is a national home for theatre artists.