Kitchen Theatre/AWI

Katie Spallone, Bevin O'Gara, David Kossack and Eliza VanCort, who all combined to lead the AWI Kitchen Theatre collaboration. (Photo courtesy of Kitchen Theatre)

With just one day of auditions, the Actors Workshop of Ithaca and the Kitchen Theatre broke ground on what could be a sign of things to come for local theater-performer partnerships in the future. 

The auditions, held in September, represented the first time AWI students have been given an exclusive opportunity to try out for a production in front of Kitchen Theatre casters and receive feedback from them afterwards. In other scenarios, AWI director Eliza VanCort said, those students might not be able to receive that kind of critiquing, which can be quite valuable as they try to hone their craft moving forward. It’s one of the first events of its kind in the local theater community, 

“The arts is ultimately a collaborative process that enriches communities,” VanCort wrote in an email. “Training to become an actor and attending great theater should go hand in hand. This historic first time collaboration will help our actors get top notch feedback, give them a chance to develop relationships with [Kitchen Theatre executive director] Bevin O’Gara and her staff, and continue their education by providing unprecedented access to attend The Kitchen’s innovative season.” 

O’Gara was enthusiastic about the idea as well, seeing it as a way to bring experiences she had at her previous job that she found satisfying to her current position in a way not commonly seen in the area. Both O’Gara and VanCort also credited local theater figure Rachel Hockett with planting the seeds for the idea of more dedicated collaboration between theaters and performance troupes.  

“Most of my job back in Boston had been making connections with the local community, really via casting, and providing opportunities for local artists for them to grow, both through the auditioning process but also hopefully in something more than that,” O’Gara said. “This is a way for me to connect back to one of the pieces of my work that I found so rewarding before, which is basically providing an opportunity for local actors to feel part of, not just a local conversation, but a national conversation, which is what we try to do here at the Kitchen.”

O’Gara’s background is in casting, so the new venture is truly a natural fit for her; she calls it “dipping her toe back in.” She characterized it as opening the Kitchen’s doors to a different type of experience, and said that though she couldn’t promise anything, she could see doing a similar audition event with other actor companies around the area. Auditioning makes up such a significant portion of an actor’s career, O’Gara said, that being able to extend more feedback and advice than normal during that process was a beneficial opportunity, both for the Kitchen and for the students of AWI. 

She also sees it as a continuation of other parts of the Kitchen’s yearly repertoire that hopefully inspire more local collaboration. She cites things like the One Minute Play Festival, hosting different theater companies like Running 2 Places and others, as examples of simple actions that can serve as liaisons between theaters and performers. 

VanCort echoed those sentiments, and made clear she hopes that similar efforts can be made to benefit her students again. In her mind, collaboration with one another can only be positive for the local theater community. 

“I see over and over again that inclusive, high quality arts education and theater brings folks together in inspiring and impactful ways,” VanCort said. “This is the beginning of something really special. I have no doubt it will continue to grow and have ripples which reach far beyond AWI or The Kitchen. Art unites people, and this is a way we can contribute to that process.”

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