Kenn McLaughlin takes risks, which is no small thing when you're in charge of a community theater where some audiences may be more comfortable with, well, more comfortable fare. But McLauglin has also brought the edge along to the play selection at Stages Repertory Theatre. For every Panto Red Riding Hood there's something like In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl. For every showing of The Winter Wonderettes there's also a Grey Gardens that played to such acclaim in Houston in 2009. In the process, area actors get more shots at some pretty meaty roles.
McLaughlin had been at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland when he came to Houston and Stages on the business end of the operation as managing director, but for six years now, he has been the producing artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre as well. He picks the plays, directs some of them, and "I have to decide how I'm going to pay for it."
At the same time, he says, the risks are justified "because we have to be alive as people. The ordinary or commonplace is never going to wake us up."
What he does: Some people would consider some of what McLaughlin does a dream job. He sees plays, traveling to New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles to take in what they're doing in theater, assessing what he thinks would work well in Houston. At the same time, putting on 11 shows a year means he doesn't get out as much as he'd like.
And he's not only looking for plays, but performers and directors. For instance, he liked the work of John Moletress when he saw him direct a play in Washington, D.C., kept in contact and when the time was right, offered him the directing job for Mistakes Were Made.
And sometimes, despite his best efforts, his juggling act can't always make everything work out immediately. "Many a great play has been set aside because the moment was not right to produce it."
What inspires him: His staff and the people he works with. "Most have been with me ten years or more. They have stayed through financial nightmares."
Why he likes it: "The people I work with on every level. They challenge themselves every moment of the day. They completely surprise me," he says. "I love it when we nail it."
If not this, then what: That's an easy one. He'd be a teacher. In fact, throughout his career he's taught on the side at the college and high school level. "I like challenging people to think in broad terms, engage in Socratic dialog."
If not here, then where: He's liked every place he's been: Chicago, then Cleveland and now Houston. "I'm really suited to a Southern city," he says, but if he had to pick one "other" -- he would have to say Chicago.
What's next: "I turned 50 this year and I got my muscle car. I want Stages to be evergreen. We have brought this thing back from a debt-riddled, battered little shop. I would like to know it stays past my time here.
"Part of my next is figuring out what that is."
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