Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Studio Roanoke Closed, But Mission Continues

Ristau and writer Lucy Thurber
Todd Ristau, who taught Studio Roanoke founder Kenley Smith at Hollins University and who is a major player in Roanoke's theater circle, has been involved with studio Roanoke from the beginning and weighs in below on its loss.

Todd knows theater and understands what this little group is/was/will continue to be and he offers hope for the future to those who believe what Studio Roanoke stands for is gone.

My thought is that the foundation of the group that worked Studio Roanoke is strong and that the concept is here to stay. It is sad that the arts in Virginia has lost its government funding, but with Republicans in office, that is not unexpected. Art funding in the U.S. now, under Republican domination, has fallen to the level of Third World nations and it wasn't all that hot to begin with. Casualties abound and we are all poorer for the loss.

Here's Todd's statement:

I think that first, and foremost, it is important to draw a distinction between the KW "Pete" Smith Theatre building and Studio Roanoke, which was the resident theatre company housed there. Ken owned one and founded the other, so there are ... two things to be sad about--that this amazing theatre space is up for sale (and unlikely to remain a theatre space when purchased by a new owner), and also that the resident company is not in a position to continue as a viable company outside that space and without Kenley's direct support.

When Kenley Smith bought the building and formed the resident company it was a very exciting time and I am very proud of the work we did together to open that space and provide a home for new plays and the people who create them. We produced a tremendous amount of work there and the creative relationship with the Playwright's Lab at Hollins University, and the Board of Advisors I assembled, allowed Studio Roanoke to bring in some amazing theatre artists with international reputations to work side by side with our local writers and performers as well as the MFA playwriting students in the Lab.

While I was Artistic Director there was a divergence in philosophy between myself and the Studio Roanoke Board which led to my departure but I continued support them--including directing shows last season and underwriting major expenses for their productions of plays by our students--such as the very successful production of "To The New Girl" by Samantha Macher.

Sadly, though it had great reviews and large audiences, that play will turn out to be the last full production. For that show, the Playwright's Lab provided the honorarium, housing and travel expenses for the guest director as we have done for nearly every other production in that theatre written by one of our students. We will continue to share resources and defray costs for any theatre in the area interested in working with us to produce plays coming out of our program.

Even though Studio Roanoke is closing and the building is up for sale, the commitment and support for new works by our playwriting program is actually stronger than ever. Even with the closing of that great space, those efforts by the playwright's lab will continue. I think there is cause for a lot of hope and enthusiasm for new works in Roanoke, even as we lament the closing of this innovative space. Remember that a theatre is really a reflection of the community it serves, not simply the brick and mortar where that community gathers.

No Shame is still here. Overnight Sensations is still here. The Festival of Student Readings is still here. We already have plans for two new plays to be produced at Mill Mountain Theatre in the coming year and one full production at Hollins University as well as co-productions in theatres from New York to Los Angeles. This summer we have nearly 30 playwriting students and expect that number to continue to grow as Roanoke builds on our reputation as the place in the South East for new play development.

I am sad to hear the news that Studio Roanoke is dissolving and the building will go up for sale. While it would be wonderful if some angel could purchase the building to make it available as a resource to area writers and performers, I don't know if such angels exist.

Ken Smith is to be commended for taking that risk and all of Roanoke should be very proud of the work made possible in that space. And, it sounds like Ken is very excited about what he might accomplish in Nashville and I wish him well as he joins a new community there.

1 comment:

  1. Dan,
    When you say that the foundation of the group that worked Studio Roanoke is strong, you are dead on right. Theatre, as you know, draws people together into family. Arts-minded people are the creative force behind much progress. I know and love many of these people here in Roanoke and I know that they/we will find other venues to embrace us. Roanoke has theatre spaces available, and while it would be so wonderful if someone could buy the Studio Roanoke building and recreate what has been (I wish I wish I wish I could!), there are options right downtown in the Taubman (great little stage area), the Community High School building (beautiful little theatre!), and Waldron Stage/Mill Mountain Theatre. Then there are others throughout the area (Hollins, Showtimers)! I encourage my friends to reach out to each other and form a (more perfect?) union in seeking out new opportunities to be seen, heard, felt, understood, etc. A friend of mine has started the Star City Creators Society on Facebook. I urge everyone with arts on the brain to join in and be a voice for what we want to have available to us. Things like art, plays, live music, speakers, literary discussions, and so much more. Here's a link to their page on FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Star-City-Creators-Society/224472777605779
    "Like" it today. I'm involved in the planning now, will you join me? It's the next Big Idea.

    I will miss the heck out of Studio Roanoke, but I know the people, the family, that made it what it was, will still be around to wreak havoc...er, to inspire Roanoke to think outside the box.