The room is quiet. Empty. Just myself and Co-Artistic Directors John Sloan and Bill Brochtrup (Rob Nagle was not available) are seated in the atheneum, where everything from meetings to rehearsals to classes are conducted. There’s privacy. So it’s not a normal day. Routine, as both men vividly describe, are laughable, theatrical antics that tend to overlap in the compressed space. How it all gets managed in such close quarters is hard to imagine. They pull it off, though.
Melodic-voiced and particularly eloquent, Bill begins the talk with an intense fluidity that is downright Shakespearean, but in a way I don’t expect. He asks me about my journey as an artist. I am intrigued and excited. This moment is so much more about sharing a deeply intimate experience rather than mere information.
The jumping point is meant to compare both our trajectories in the performing arts to that of the Antaeus Theatre which, according to Bill, was originally formed by a simple collective of actors who, much like Steppenwolf in Chicago, converged at first in public spaces and who, over time, organized themselves into a producing company. In small steps the actors have taken on many roles; artistically, of course, but also in designing, presenting and executing ideas and programs intrinsic to the company’s growth and longevity. These are players who continuously evolve by necessity and who own that evolution every day.
Transformation however, has inspired more growth. The current location is crammed. Housed into a single unit is: a full classical theatre season; a playwrights’ lab creating original works; educational, academy and outreach programs; rehearsals; the largest, private, Los Angeles library of theatrical books and plays in need of formal cataloging; business offices; and a 49-seat house. With no more opportunity for physical expansion (and not for the lack of trying), moving has presented itself as a singular option. And so, without further ado, Antaeus is bidding farewell to its beloved North Hollywood home to embark upon a new path in Glendale.
“You don’t get into theatre for the security.” ~John Sloan
With the sudden dissolution of the 99-Seat Agreement by Actors’ Equity Association, overturning a majority vote by its Los Angeles members who wanted to keep the agreement in place, Antaeus, like everyone else, is trying to figure out the future. There is going to be fallout. No one really knows what’s going to happen. Pulling ahead as front-runners in the Intimate Theatre race, their multi-pronged approach of producing, training and outreach is driven by an extremely activated board at the heart of their organizational structure, focusing on resources and long-term planning. It’s not just about putting on plays. The board is uniquely differentiated. “They are a part of the family and have a lot of say in what goes on. They’re not just people sitting at the table making decisions. We nurture them. We make them a part of the creative world – an experience which offers real ownership in the company.”
Although in the works for some time, ultimately the move is a huge leap of faith – expand rather than shrink in the face of challenging demands that have other companies scrambling for sheer survival. Antaeus’ unanimous decision is to forge ahead, no matter the uncertainties.
“What’s funny is that there is this huge perception that now that we’ve made the announcement, everyone thinks it’s a ‘done deal.’ All the money is in place, the future absolutely certain, a clear path ahead and nothing but blue skies.” ~John Sloan
There is still quite a large amount of funding that needs to be raised during this current season in order to build out the new space due to open, partially constructed, in September 2016 – an 80-seat theatre and a 45-seat black box which will also act as a classroom. (Visit Antaeus.org to learn more about the Play On! Capital Campaign.)
In the meantime, the City of Glendale has embraced Antaeus with wide-open arms. Eager to promote art, a rarity in itself, Glendale wanted a theatre that would add to their downtown cultural development scene specifically zoned for that purpose. As Bill says, “Every great city needs a great theatre.” Antaeus has the ability to offer a top-notch experience and to foster theatre culture.
Antaeus is also in talks to partner with Glendale Unified Schools and is already working with educators who teach Shakespeare as part of their regular curriculum in scene study classes. There is also a Kids Academy to help develop future audiences and train the next generation of actors.
Antaeus’ tent-pole Aggeler program, where company members work with incarcerated boys on Shakespeare, is a shining star. The boys are encouraged to create stories using parallel themes, to understand the power of their own narratives. What these youths find is a life-changing empathy they often don’t experience. And, they get to perform their plays in public.
Bill and I walk out together and reminisce about life at the theatre, giggling a bit at the props, the peeled paint of excavated reused sets and all the little tchotchkes that hold a beautiful history. Bill’s great love for it all, evident.
“This is what we want to bring with us. All of this. Memories that can embrace and grow the future community.” ~Bill Brochtrup
It’s clear that Antaeus’ move is “the big idea” architecting the foundation for a community meant to grow and thrive and last for years to come.