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Everyman Theatre is a professional theatre celebrating the actor, with a resident company of artists from the Baltimore/Washington, DC area, dedicated to producing quality plays that are accessible and affordable to everyone.

Everyman moved from Charles Street in Station North to Fayette Street in downtown’s West Side. As a result of the move they increased seating from 175 to 250, its annual budget from $1.7 million to $2.3 million, added 4 staff people, and increased season subscriptions by a 1,000. They did it during a bad economy. An impressive feat. The dust has settled and a season in the new home completed. I sat down with Artistic Director, Vincent (Vinny) Lancisi to talk about the new home and what it takes to lead a non profit performing arts organization. With over twenty years in one spot, many patrons resisted the change, afraid their theater would lose its identity. While the location has changed and the operation evolved, Everyman’s core values remain strong, rooted in valuing the actor.

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PETER

How is the new home working out?

VINNY

It’s great. Most of the criteria that involve the artistry and the operational aspects we love. The big rehearsal room and its proximity to the scene shop. We have a lift we can bring scenery up from the shop to the rehearsal hall, use it there, and bring it down again for the stage. They can build around the clock if they want to without interrupting rehearsals. The rehearsal hall is no longer a detriment. It’s actually a lovely place to be. In addition to dedicated space to rehearsals, the new home also has a great proximity to all the things that you need for creature comforts like bathrooms and a kitchen, and even the administrative and marketing staffs can watch rehearsals and have a feel for what we’re doing and a story to tell. We can bring donors in and give them a glimpse.

PETER

How long before it felt like home?

VINNY

To our architect’s (Cho Benn Holback + Associates) credit, about five minutes. They are the best listeners. They really took their time. Lived with us in our theater and asked all the right questions. They knew that everybody was concerned that we would lose our identity–whatever made us special on Charles Street–coming to this much bigger custom built new theater…“They’re going to get big and homogenous like other regional theaters.”

PETER

What did you (and staff/board) do right to make it happen?

VINNY

We hired the right design team. We got the right volunteer leadership team for the funding campaign. We took advantage of every public dollar that was available. Twelve out of every eighteen dollars was public, which is great. I happen to believe that’s the way it should be to renovate big empty buildings in sections of the city that need revitalization. A lot of people benefitted. We employed lots of people, the money was wisely spent, and we ended up with this beautiful building. It was a great collaboration between the architects and the theater consultants. They listened and studied. It really was a combination of design integrity

PETER

Has the new larger beautiful space affected your vision for Everyman in any way?

VINNY

It’s always been my goal to grow Everyman into a major regional theater, from day one. It’s always been my goal to employ actors to the point where they could survive working exclusively for Everyman. We’re not there yet. But we’re several steps closer.

PETER

Is anyone else in Baltimore doing it that way?

VINNY
Nobody.

PETER
In your difference lays great value.

VINNY

Resident companies have been an endangered species for quite some time. When I was studying theater they were nirvana for anybody who believes the actor is at the center of the work, which I do. It’s a very collaborative art—it takes a village—but, basically you have an actor in space telling a story. If you take that actor away it’s something else.

Tracy Letts, when he won the Tony Award said, “We are the people who will tell you to your face.”

What a great way of talking about the kind of courage it takes. We’ve always kept that as the central focus. Everything we do is in service to that. I look for plays that will nurture that, that play to the actor’s sweet spot. I try to make sure that I have the right balance of just enough exposure of each company member, and not over or under exposing them.

PETER
A delicate balance.

VINNY

It is.

Going back to the vision perspective, what’s different is the scale of what’s possible. And I think you’ll see from our first four shows in this space. Compared to what we’ve done in the past, particularly our current show The Beaux’ Stratagem, the scale is larger.  It has a lot of moving scenery, big pieces, the costumes are bigger, the acting style, the gestures are larger…which fits the Restoration period which is all about balance, point and counter-point. When we tried a Restoration piece in the old space the audience couldn’t take it all in. Here you can look at the picture that is painted and see how everything and everyone relates to each other and to the audience. Yet, the intimacy is still here. There’s height we never had before. My set designer said to me, regarding August, Osage County, you finally give us a theater that has two stories and you pick a play with a three story set!

PETER

What is the Artistic Director’s job?

VINNY

That’s a superb question. Only about twenty percent of it is artistic. That’s the sad reality. Most of us come up as a trained theater artist of some kind. Usually it’s as a director, sometimes an actor, and sometimes in the case of Kwame (Kwei-Armah at Center Stage) a writer and actor. We come as trained experts with a point of view in the creation of theater. The job of Artistic Director requires vision of a different sort–a commitment to an organization, an organism that has all of the working parts that are in support of the performance. I work very closely with Ian Tresselt, Managing Director.

It is a miracle that any non profit arts organizations survive, because, by design, they are governed by a board of directors that knows little about producing the art. By design! They are leaders in the community, business world, or the foundation world that bring resources and guidance and they govern the organization. They should in theory not be involved in the art making, but it’s hard not to impact it.

My job is the artistic well being of the organization. If you take the broadest definition of that then I have to make sure there’s enough money there, so I have to be out there telling the story; marketing, fund raising, finding resources, over seeing the production management, and all things to do with the physical production. Selecting plays, directing two of them, over seeing all the casting, hiring all the designers and everyone on the creative teams for all the plays. Fifty percent of every dollar that comes in is unearned. It’s contributed. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of people that care. Yet, a philanthropist can say, I want my money to make an impact on life and may give to under privileged children or the development of a cure for cancer, something important. We have a big case to make to get people to invest. And when I say invest they don’t get anything back except the joy of knowing that they help us to create. If you took away the fifty percent contributed income then you’d pay twice as much to see a show. As an artistic director you have to be willing to be an administrator and an ambassador, work long hours, and make connections that people can get behind and support. A lot of directors aren’t interested in that.

PETER

How do you make the case for live theater?

VINNY

You bring them in and show them why you selected this play.

PETER

How did you build a season?

VINNY

I start with a list of 100 plays or so and I whittle it down. How many roles are in it? Can I get the rights to it? Do I have the right mix of classics and contemporary, of comedy and tragedy, the right roles for the actors in the company, can we build the sets? It’s crazy! When I look at the final six from where we started I wonder how I got ever got there.

The bottom-line is do I love that play? Because if you don’t love the play you probably shouldn’t do it.

PETER

Where does Everyman fit into the Baltimore theater landscape?

VINNY

We’re different because we’re the only equity professional theater with a resident company of local artists. They’re ensconced in the community. Our artists come from here, live here, get married here, and raise children here. We believe that you shouldn’t have to move to another city to make a living as an artist.

PETER

Tell me a story.

VINNY

The very first show we did had thirteen actors. Twelve of them made $200 for the whole run. The one equity actor made $2800. He donated back all but his union dues.

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PETER

What lies at Everyman’s core?

VINNY

The theater community here is really growing and I want to do every thing I can to support it. And in a perfect world—and this is no surprise to them, I call them and hound them about it—I want them to go equity, I want them to start investing in hiring union actors…a commitment to paying talent. It’s about valuing a consummate professional. Caring about the actor and the safety of the actor, the nurturing of the actor, having a loyalty to talent, that kind of trust. When a new actor comes in they either love it or they don’t trust it, they’re suspicious, because they don’t find that anywhere else. The reason why is because I’d never worked at another professional theater when I started this. I built a theater right out of grad school the way I thought it should be. The actor will always be at the center of the theater as long as I’m in charge.

 

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