Episode 6 – Life’s A Show

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If “All the World’s a Stage”, then “Life’s a Show” in the theatre world of Akron.

So this was a crazy episode to make. You should have heard this episode back in the fall. However, right as I was finishing up the episode – due to some technical difficulties – all of the audio I had edited together got corrupted and I didn’t have time to redo everything.

So I sat it aside and timed it for release around the time that J.T. Buck of Coach House Theatre and Francine Parr of the Millennial Theatre Project would be gearing up for their next performances. In between that time and now I had the great fortune of talking to Logan Ellis of Theatre Battery in Kent, Washington.

Then something else happened. Remember how when Gimme ArtsNow first started, our intern, Logan Lane was my co-host? And a few episodes ago I interviewed Logan Evans of Charlotte Ballet? (You see where this is going, right?) Well in the process of cleaning up some files, I managed to delete this fantastic interview with Logan Ellis.

But that’s ok, I’m going to still tell you a little bit (later on in this post) about the boundary stretching work Logan Ellis and his team is doing in the small town of Kent, Washington.

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Courtesy of JT Buck’s SummitLive365 artist profile

But before we get to that, I must say it was a pleasure to talk with J.T. Buck. When I reached out to J.T. in the fall of 2017, it was shortly after he had taken over as Artistic Director of Coach House Theatre. The announcement of his arrival came just after it had been reported that the theatre was going to close its doors for good.

It seemed like taking over at this point and reviving the longstanding theatre would be a herculean feat. So one of the first questions I asked him was, why?

Why would he take on such a task?

J.T. gave me an answer the likes of which I couldn’t have written better if I was putting it in a script.

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He said, “I think that our small arts institutions are worth saving.” It’s such a simple statement, but it strikes right to the core of arts advocacy.

At the time of the interview J.T. was in the middle of a run of three Agatha Christie radio plays. Turn out was great and people enjoyed the shows. Now Coach House Theatre has begun their run of their Christmas play, “Christmas In Akron, the Musical” written by Akron native Rob Loos.

J.T. shares with us his background in theatre, his passion for bringing Coach House Theatre back to life, and his vision for the future where women take the lead on the productions at the theatre since it is owned by the Akron Woman’s City Club.

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Photo credit – Dominic Iudiciani

When I caught up with Francine Parr, she had just finished up the her Agatha Christie production with Coach House Theatre and was deep into preparing for Bonnie and Clyde at the Akron Civic Theatre. Francine is the Co-Founder and one of the directors with the Millennial Theatre Project.

I was shocked to learn that there aren’t a lot of options for young people between the ages of 18-30 who love theatre. She informed me that once you age out of youth theatre, you are often times forced into hiatus until you reach a point where directors feel you aren’t too young for parts in adult theatre productions.

This was the basis of her decision to start a new company where young people can take the reins and won’t be told no due to age, race, sex, or any other bias. In fact getting a more diversified crew on stage and behind the scene is Francine’s long term goal for the company.

The Millennial Theatre Project is gearing up for the return of their production of Avenue Q, January 11-13 at the Akron Civic Theatre. Their shows give you the unique opportunity to get very up close and personal with the cast, as the stage itself is turned into a black box theatre. The stage can seat about 200 audience members as well as the performers making for an uncommon and enjoyable theatre experience.

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Photo credit – Annabel Clark Photography

And even thought I lost the interview, I wanted share with you all a little bit about Theatre Battery and Logan Ellis, because the work they are doing is so inspiring.

Kent is located about midway between Seattle and Tacoma and has a population of about 127,000 people. It’s not the type of place you would expect to find cutting edge plays like, “WE ARE PUSSY RIOT OR EVERYTHING IS P.R.” by Barbara Hammond, being performed in a vacant storefront or warehouse. However, that’s exactly what’s happening thanks to Logan Ellis and his friends.

After going away for school and to work in big cities around the country, each year the group would return home with their heads full of the great new plays they saw. They decided they were going to put on these plays in their hometown and the community rallied around them.

They use a “pay what you can” method of admission and this has caused them to play to jam packed crowds. Their plays draw ages from young to old, new to theatre to seasoned patrons, and even city officials.

Rehearsal of “WE ARE PUSSY RIOT OR EVERYTHING IS PR” at Theatre Battery Kent, WA – Photo credit – Annabel Clark Photography

Logan Ellis has worked as Artistic Direction Apprentice with San Fransico’s Magic Theatre and is currently studying at the Yale School of Drama. Here’s hoping that I get an opportunity to talk with Logan again. I promise not to lose the tape next time. *Sigh*

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