When a small-town theater graduate moves to a big city looking for their big break, they go through an endless stream of auditions, hoping to finally land a role that will catapult their career. What they get instead are side jobs and, after a few years, the feeling of burnout.
It’s a tragically common story, and one that Forge Theatre hopes to create less of.
“That’s something in the repertory approach that we really are looking for: How can we create a sustainable place for artists to live?” said Coleman Crenshaw, co-artistic director of Forge.
Creating a safe haven for aspiring theater people is what inspired Crenshaw and UMKC Master of Fine Arts alum Todd Lanker to found Forge Repertory Theatre. Forge hopes to give up-and-comers a chance to learn the ropes of the theater world through experience and mentoring.
“There’s things about the theater business that we all too often are not taught,” stated Lanker.
One of the important lessons Forge hopes to teach is that of collaboration. Crenshaw noted the importance of having people learning not just to be a part of productions, but also to add their unique voices to it.
Forge isn’t just a theater for the theater community, but for all of Kansas City. One key aspect of making its plays a perfect fit for Kansas City? Diversity.
“We have to start saying, ‘Let’s approach everything with a view of how are we reflecting the world?’” stated Lanker. “That’s going to show itself in terms of gender, in terms of cultural identity, in terms of sexual identity, in terms of everything.”
Rather than approaching plays with a traditional mindset, Forge aspires to make the stories more modern. This includes taking plays that have historically been reserved for white actors and casting them with a broader mindset.
“Let’s break that down a little bit, because most stories aren’t about that,” added Lanker.
Crenshaw and Lanker believe the stories that the theater have selected will connect with local audiences. For example, a theme of an upcoming play, “On the Verge,” explores Victorian women adapting to different times and ideas.
“I think Kansas City is a perfect example of this cross section in progress,” said Lanker, “We’re an incredible progressive city…But there’s also the side of it that’s stuck in this previous version of society.”
Forge aspires to be a space for both aspiring theater people and the audiences that enjoy their craft. It’ll blaze onto the theater scene Dec. 5 with its debut show, “On the Verge,” at the Blackbox Theatre.