Theatrikos is one of four cultural organizations that hired new leadership in 2019, along with the Flagstaff Arts Council, the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Museum of Northern Arizona. This is the second in a series of Q&A interview with these new cultural leaders, this time with Chris Verrill, who became the Theatrikos Executive Director in February.
How did you get interested in theater? When I was 11 years old, my nine-year-old sister suggested that my grandparents take us to see Dick van Dyke in The Music Man. It was amazing. I’ve never looked back.
Your career in the theater spans more than three decades, but the item on your resume that just jumps out is your 12 years as the director of an English-language theater in China. What was that like? China is the most heavily censored major country in the world. And media is the most heavily censored industry in China. (Well, perhaps following religion.) Theater in China is still regulated as part of the media. It’s not just the censorship of content, but much more crucially, the censorship of business practices. So doing theater in China sure was an adventure.
But it was also very gratifying. The Cultural Revolution in China killed the arts. Beijing Playhouse played an important part in reviving theater in China. Audience members came to our shows not even knowing that theater was an art form, thanking us for bringing it back to China. We were the first to teach theater education in Chinese public schools. It’s an amazing sense of pride and satisfaction in making a difference in people’s lives.
You came to Theatrikos in early February and less than three months later, you were dealing with an huge emergency – a sewer line flood into the basement of the Doris White-Harper Playhouse. How have the rebuilding and recovery efforts gone? Good news: Theatrikos is clean and sanitary and safe to enter. Bad news: Between sewage mitigation, sanitation, lawyers, insurance issues and construction companies, we’ve got our work cut out for us for the next few years. It’s going take a lot of work from the entire community to get us completely back on our feet.
In a letter to Theatrikos volunteers you said that your goal was to help the theater “treasure our current triumphs and take it up a few notches for the future.” What sort of things are on the horizon for Theatrikos? Theatrikos has an almost 50 track record of wonderful success. The board of directors hired me to build on that. Artistically our shows are amazing and professional. But on the business end, we haven’t been living up to our potential. We plan on doing a better job of becoming financially secure, doing long term fundraising, better scheduling, and expanded educational offerings.
What production is up next for Theatrikos and TheatriKids, your youth theater? At Theatrikos, our holiday show Angels in Disguise runs in December. We’re already starting to book company Christmas parties at the theater where employees can have their receptions and see a great show at the same time. We’re set to announce our 2020 season on October 13. We’ve got some exciting, popular shows lined up.
TheatriKids has been the pride of our community for years. We’re going to expand TheatriKids by dividing it into three targeted programs. Specifically, we’ll break it out in to beginning, intermediate and advanced. To that end, this Winter, we’re launching TheatriKids Fundamentals, the beginning level educational theater program. There will still be a show at the end of this camp. But the show isn’t the point. The point is that students learn. It’ll be a great extension of our already hugely popular program.
Now that you’ve been in Flagstaff for a few months, what’s your overall impression of the community? Anything that surprised you? I moved to Flagstaff in January. And it was so kind and thoughtful for the city to arranged that beautiful snowmageddon as a my own personal welcoming reception. Thank you. I loved it.
Any other news? We’re launching two new initiatives. First we’ll create a show catered to visitors that’s designed to help drive the economy of Flagstaff. Given the lead time in undertaking such a venture, Route 66 to the Grand Canyon (the working title) will open in April 2021. Unlike our usual shows which change every month, this show will run weekly all year long.
The second project, also launching in April 2021, has us working with all arts organizations in Northern Arizona. We’ll work together to launch Canyon Arts Festival; an opportunity for arts organizations to coordinate our schedules and create a wonderful festival that will, not only drive attendance, but again, help the economy of the region.