SANTA MARIA, CA. and NASHVILLE: What’s in a name change? In the case of two theatres who recently made the switch, it’s about clarity—not about instituting big changes so much as recognizing and reflecting changes that have already been happening, both on the companies’ stages and in their neck of the woods.
On the West Coast, the 51-year-old training powerhouse PCPA now no longer stands for “Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts”; its new name is Pacific Conservatory Theatre. Though it will keep the earlier four-letter acronym as a vestigial nod to the past, the new moniker is meant to reflect that the organization is a conservatory for theatre, not for all the performing arts (as is, say, Juilliard).
PCPA is also dropping “Theaterfest” from its season title, as it does more than program a summer-only festival in the nearby Danish-themed village of Solvang—it also does year-round programming at its home base Santa Maria, alongside its two-year conservatory training program for actors and theatre technicians. The theatre’s next production is Renegade Animation’s Christmas Is Here Again, Nov. 13-Dec. 24.
Meanwhile, last month Tennessee Repertory Theatre rebranded itself, taking the name of its Music City home to become Nashville Repertory Theatre. Artistic director René D. Copeland says the name change has “been in conversation for a while.” Though it originates from a basic geographical confusion (“When I say Tennessee Rep, that could be anywhere in the state,” Copeland says), it also acknowledges heartening changes to the country music capital’s artistic ecology—changes that Nashville Rep has been party to.
“Nashville has become a hotbed of creativity, and we’re part of that,” says Copeland. “In the 30 years since the company started, Nashville has changed, and this is a nice way to claim our stake in what it’s become. The music industry is the main engine, obviously, but juices from that have spilled in every direction. We’ve got an opera and a ballet comapny. And it’s still a small enough town that there’s a lot of cross-pollination.”
The name isn’t simply a matter of capitalizing on a trend, though. “One of our reasons to exist is to serve as a home for Nashville artists,” say Copeland. “We’re pretty committed to that; we cast in town on purpose. If actors can’t make a living here, they’re not gonna live here.”
Nashville Rep may be hiring local, but they’re also thinking nationally with their new-play development efforts. They’ve got a playwright in residence, Nate Eppler, and each spring they host the Ingram New Works Project and festival, which develops and showcases the work of emerging playwrights while also hosting a new work-in-process by a nationally recognized writer. Past guest artists have included Doug Wright and John Patrick Shanley; next year’s is Donald Margulies.
Like those play-development workshops, the Rep’s name change is about “trying to make the story clear, to make it clear who we serve,” Copeland says. The audience for that message is as much local as national, she says, admitting, “Sometimes the people in the town where you live are the last people to find out how cool you are.”
Nashville Rep’s current production is a revival of its popular 2008 production of Sweeney Todd.