Theater Profile: Kristine Thatcher
Hail to the chief: Meet BoarsHead’s new artistic director
It’s not often that a teenager’s dreams become her adult reality, but Kristine Thatcher, the new artistic director of Lansing’s BoarsHead Theatre, is living the life she mapped out for herself way back in the 1960s.
“When I was a teenager, this group came from Boston and Iowa to put a summer theater together,” Thatcher told Curtain Calls a few hours before the opening night performance of “King o’ the Moon” a few weeks back. “It was called the Ledges Playhouse at the time, in Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge, and I went to see ‘A Thousand Clowns’ with John Peakes and an actress named Linda Carlson. I must’ve been 14 or 15 at the time, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to do it and I want to do it with those people.'”
It was only two short years later that Thatcher found herself on the soon-to-be BoarsHead stage, thanks to a New York-based actress who had to back out of her commitment to the theater. “They held local auditions, so I went in and got the job,” Thatcher recalled.
The young actress remained at the theater for about the next dozen years. Nearly four decades later, she’s back – but this time as its artistic leader.
“It’s been a joyful homecoming,” Thatcher said. “I love the community here.”
After playing such roles as Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday” and Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” Thatcher left Lansing to pursue what would become an award-winning career as an actress, director and playwright at theaters all across the country. Her work has been seen by audiences at such prestigious playhouses as The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, The Milwaukee Repertory Theater, The Roundabout Theatre in New York City and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. She has been a member of the Chicago-based Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble since 1996. Her first script, “Niedecker,” debuted at the BoarsHead in 1986 before moving to The Writer’s Theatre in Chicago with Thatcher in the title role.
But Thatcher’s heart has always been in Lansing. So when the position became available, it wasn’t a difficult decision to uproot her life and return home. “This theater gave me my start. I cut my teeth here, and so the opportunity to come back home and take the reins of this place that is my favorite theater in the whole world is just wonderful!”
One of the artistic director’s first tasks is to expand the theater’s base of loyal supporters. With over a thousand subscribers – slightly more than a third of the seats available for every production – Thatcher wants to find ways to market her shows to people of all ages and ethnic groups. “I want to double [our subscribers] over the next year or two so that this place is just humming.”
One way to do that, she feels, is with a Late Night series aimed at young professionals and college students. Another is to collaborate with other area non-profits and colleges on projects to keep the doors open throughout the summer. And the theater’s Dark Night series of new and edgier works will continue.
But one of her biggest goals is to nurture the development of new works by contemporary playwrights. Although it’s dangerous, she feels, for a theater in a mid-size town like Lansing to schedule only new plays, “I think we have to look towards commissioning a new piece. Lansing deserves to be a part of that process. It’s also a way to get grants and support money that this theater needs.
“We’re just trying to think of anything we can do to bring people in to downtown Lansing!”
Thatcher won’t be alone in pursuing her latest dreams, however. Besides a staff she calls “wonderful,” Marlene Shelton will soon join the theater as its managing director. “She’s making her way from San Diego even as we speak,” Thatcher said. “She’s a brilliant, funny woman with a head for numbers which I don’t have, so I think together we’ll form a partnership and really get out into the community and get the word out.”
Although change is always a fact of life whenever a new administration takes charge of an organization, one thing long-time fans of the BoarsHead can be assured of is the continued presence of actress Carmen Decker – the only actor to be nominated for a Wilde Award every year since its inception. “She taught me everything I know,” Thatcher said. “She, John Peakes and Richard Thomsen were all my professors. People will see her frequently here, because there’s nobody better!”
The BoarsHead Theatre is currently offering special “half-price” season subscriptions. For complete information about subscriptions or the current production, “King o’ the Moon,” call the box office at 517-484-7805.
TIDBITS: Theater News from Around Town
‘Deceptions’ returns Sept. 30; MOT’s Opera Ball Oct. 1
ITEM: The Wilde Award-nominated – and very funny multi-media production – “Deceptions to the Rule…the stuff that schemes are made of!” returns to tickle your funny bone, but this time at the Century Theatre inside Detroit’s Historic Gem Theatre Entertainment Facility.
The contemporary spoof of the film noir detective genre features Dave Davies, Tim McKendrick, Jaime Moyer, Amy Phillips, Mark Sobolewski and Tim Robinson.
The seven-week engagement begins Sept. 30 and runs Tuesday through Sunday through mid-November. Tickets are $29.50-$34.50.
For tickets and information, call 313-963-9800 or log onto http://www.gemtheatre.com.
ITEM: The Michigan Opera Theatre’s 19th annual Opera Ball returns to the Detroit Opera House in grand style on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The black tie gala will include cocktails, a sumptuous feast by Opus One, a live auction and entertainment provided by the cast of MOT’s “Norma,” Singing Strings and Mel Ball with Colours.
Tickets are $500 per person. All proceeds will benefit MOT’s main stage performances and various educational and outreach programs.
For tickets and information, call Heather Hamilton at 313-237-3425.