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6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From an Alaska-based storyteller to a casting director in New York City, here are some theatre workers to have on your radar.

Erica Jensen

Erica Jensen.

Profession: Casting director
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Current home: Park Slope, Brooklyn
Known for: At Calleri Casting, she’s worked on film and TV (“Most people get very excited when they hear I worked on Season 2 of ‘Chappelle’s Show’”), as well as theatre, including the Broadway shows Of Mice and Men and Fool for Love.
What’s next: At press time Calleri’s office was busy peopling the Humana Festival at Kentucky’s Actors Theatre of Louisville in March and two Broadway shows for the fall.
What makes her special: Her colleague James Calleri praises Jensen as “the voice of calm in a crazy industry.” More importantly, he notes, she has “great taste and loves actors, which I believe is the key to success.” Director Joanna Settle calls Jensen “my first-call casting director since 2009. She tunes with such precision to the needs of a creative team, always ready to change approach as the process reveals new avenues to pursue. The casting process itself is often what clarifies the director’s ideal casting, and she is a dream partner to have on that adventure.”
Expecting the unexpected: She was pursuing acting when she started as a casting intern at Playwrights Horizons two decades ago and never looked back. She now works with Calleri and another colleague, Paul Davis, and says she enjoys the variety of media they work in, which makes her job “always interesting and unpredictable.” Her theatregoing tastes tend toward the overtly theatrical—as she puts it, “plays that are unquestionably plays and could not fit into any other medium,” citing examples such as Soho Rep’s An Octoroon and Underground Railroad Game at Ars Nova. “Unexpected things occurring onstage that make you question what is real and what’s not are thrilling to me.”

Erik Teague

Erik Teague.

Profession: Costume designer
Hometown: Cartersville, Ga.
Current home: Alexandria, Va.
Known for: Costumes in everything from operas to black-box theatre to immersive found-space performance experiences. Recent theatre credits include Equus for Constellation Theatre in D.C., Man in the Iron Mask for Synetic Theater in Arlington, Va., Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Rocky Horror Show at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, The Sleepy Hollow Experience at Old Sturbridge Village museum, and several shows for Serenbe Playhouse in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga.
What’s next: A full season of reinvented classics, beginning with a gritty version of The Crucible at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, Jan. 21-Feb. 19.
What makes him special: Actor’s Express artistic director Freddie Ashley counts Teague among his favorite collaborators. “When you combine his huge heart with the intellectual rigor and freewheeling imagination he brings to his work, the results are utterly special every time,” he says. The two met in college, and “even then,” Ashley says, “you knew you were in the presence of an artistic force to be reckoned with.”
Costume psychology: “Growing up, I was always making something,” he recalls, “either going through piles of drawing paper or cutting up toys to reconstitute them into other creatures.” This lifelong passion has taken on new meaning: “The psychology of clothing is an exciting way to study messages that people want the world to hear without ever speaking. So much subtext can be conveyed by how a garment is worn, and that is incredibly interesting to me.”

Frank Henry Kaash Katasse

Frank Henry Katasse.

Profession: Playwright/development associate/teaching artist
Hometown and current home: Juneau/Douglas, Alaska
Known for: A company actor at Perseverance Theatre and a producer at Juneau Douglas Little Theatre, Katasse has a play, They Don’t Talk Back, a coming-of-age tale about young Tlingit men in the Pacific Northwest, in a rolling world premiere that began last March at Los Angeles’s Native Voices at the Autry, then traveled south to La Jolla Playhouse in May.
What’s next: They Don’t Talk Back has come home to Perseverance in Douglas, Jan. 27-Feb. 19.
What makes him special: Jean Bruce Scott, Native Voices’ producing executive director, says that when she read They Don’t Talk Back, she got “chills” as it delved into difficult topics—including drug addiction, PTSD, breast cancer—with seeming ease. “The stories went so deep but were also funny,” Scott says. “He juxtaposed ancient Tlingit oration styles and masked storytelling next to hip-hop and beatbox rhythms. It’s tough to make all of those things flow and feel natural, but Frank did it.”
The Native narrative: Katasse feels he’s making up for lost time: Many Native people are “natural entertainers,” he says, but you wouldn’t know it from what’s on most stages. “We have such a rich background in storytelling, dancing, and singing that it became important to me to add those performing arts elements into what I write.” He also took inspiration from spending time in our other non-contiguous state: “Kuma Kahua Theatre in Honolulu is constantly pumping out fantastic work that speaks to local people of Hawaii. After seeing and being in shows there, I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this back home in Alaska?’”

Kristen Jackson

Kristen B. Jackson.

Profession: Community engagement/civic dramaturgy specialist
Hometown and current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: Since 2014 Jackson has been the connectivity director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where she identifies the civic questions at the heart of productions and creates opportunities for meaningful dialogue and understanding through creative programming and community partnerships. In 2016 she was selected to participate in TCG’s inaugural Rising Leaders of Color program; she’s also a member of the 2016 artEquity cohort, joining a growing cadre of facilitators supporting equity-based initiatives in arts organizations nationwide.
What’s next: The remaining Woolly season includes Baby Screams Miracle by Clare Barron (Jan. 30-Feb. 26), Pike St. by Nilaja Sun (March 27-April 23), and Hir by Taylor Mac (May 22-June 18).
What makes her special: Woolly managing director Meghan Pressman calls Jackson a “leader who every day teaches me something new about how to be thoughtful around the work that we create and how we can be our best selves in the work that we do. She is deeply invested in promoting understanding of differences and providing resources for our artists and audiences to connect.”
What theatre can do: Jackson says she’s passionate about theatre as a tool for social change, specifically “furthering understanding and empathy across difference, and modeling the equitable, participatory, creative democracy that I aspire to live in.” She adds, “I am drawn to work that asks challenging and provocative questions, allows for a deeper understanding of oneself, and nourishes the soul.”

Lee Sunday Evans

Lee Sunday Evans.

Profession: Director
Hometowns: Denver and Port Washington, N.Y.
Current home: New York City
Known for: Directing Kate Benson’s A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes at New Georges and WP Theater in 2015 and Christopher Chen’s Caught (AT, Feb. ’16) at the Play Company in 2016.
What’s next: She’ll direct Bryna Turner’s Bull in a China Shop at LCT3, Feb. 11-March 26.
What makes her special: Evans is “is one of the most inspired and inspiring directors I know,” says Davis McCallum, artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, where Evans helmed an all-female Macbeth last summer. McCallum, a busy NYC director himself, hails Evans for bringing “to her work both a remarkable physical precision and a highly attuned emotional and human sensitivity. The combination is what really distinguishes her as an artist.”
The potency of theatre: Drawn to theatre as a public event, Evans thinks of the art form “as a public space where we can grapple with deeply private experiences,” and can take the “urgent, difficult conversations about our society and personal lives further than we can take them when we are on our own. We cannot let theatre become irrelevant by making it wary of thorny subject matter or by hanging onto old conventions of form and structure, visual design, and ideas of character. The immediacy and potency of being in a room with a group of strangers can be a transformative communal space. It goes without saying—we need that now more than ever.”

Obehi Janice

Obehi Janice.

Profession: Actor/writer/director
Hometown: Lowell, Mass.
Current home: Boston
Known for: Named “Boston’s Best Actress” by The Improper Bostonian in 2014, Janice is the TCG Fox Foundation resident actor at Boston’s Company One Theatre. Recent credits include Love’s Labour’s Lost at Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, and We’re Gonna Die and An Octoroon at Company One.
What’s next: She’ll star in The Gift Horse at Watertown, Mass.’s New Repertory Theatre, April 22-May 14, then on May 27 she’ll have a staged reading of Ole White Sugah Daddy, a play commissioned from her by SpeakEasy Stage Company.
What makes her special: Playwright Kirsten Greenidge, in whose play Splendor Janice appeared at Company One, calls the actor “truthful in everything she does. As theatre artists, we often strive to do this. I do not think Obehi strives for this—she is it, and then she allows the rest of us to witness. I don’t know very many other people like that.” Working with her, Greenidge says, “is extraordinary in the purest sense of the word.”
Cultural exchange: At Georgetown University, Janice dreamt of “becoming the Democratic Party’s Condoleezza Rice” but instead became an artist, graduating with a “self-designed degree in culture, politics, and theatre.” Last fall at Uganda’s Kampala International Theatre Festival, she taught a workshop and directed a staged reading, and was awed by the theatre she saw. She adds, “It was illuminating to be a Nigerian-American woman abroad and to be confronted with the complexities of being black and American and African all at the same time. Being abroad during our recent election actually strengthened my identity as a black female creator, and for that I am so grateful.”

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