Jaclyn June Johnson, Festival’s previous Artistic Director, and Seth Kaltwasser, who recently served as Director of Development and Arts Education, will be returning as Co-Artistic Directors for the remainder of the 2016 season. They will continue in this shared role through next year, when they’ll manage the transition back into the renovated Civic Auditorium, the launch of the 2017 season, and the orientation of a new full-time Artistic Director later next year. While Johnson and Kaltwasser have continued to stay involved in Festival Theatre’s programming since their departures from the staff (in 2015 and 2014, respectively), both have explored theatre scenes in other parts of the Midwest during their time away.
For nearly a decade, Jaclyn Johnson’s presence and perspective have had a profound influence on the Festival Theatre experience. While she hasn’t been gone from the staff for long, she’s spent a busy year creating theatre around the Midwest! Since getting married on the Festival Theatre stage last August and leaving the staff at the end of 2015, she has served as a teaching artist and performer for Riverside Theatre in Iowa City and collaborated on an improv comedy show titled “Reality Ever After” with Under The Gun theatre in Chicago. Wisconsin has continued to be her home; she directedGrapes of Wrath for Festival Theatre this spring and is currently rehearsing a show in Milwaukee. What brings her back to Festival Theatre now? “It’s clear to me that this is a time to invest in the organization,” Johnson says. “With this current season happening in a new black box space, and the renovation at the Civic Auditorium, there are so many exciting opportunities and also so many new questions that need to be carefully considered. So, I’m thrilled to be coming back to this team. I first came to Festival Theatre in 2008 as an actor, and it’s always been evident that this company was fueled by the investments of a dynamic community of artists and local patrons. It’s been an honor to be a part of that community, and it feels good to be reinvesting during this critical time in the organization’s history.”
Since moving to Minneapolis at the end of 2014, Seth Kaltwasser has spent his time writing and performing. He’s also stayed busy on the administrative side of producing theatre, spending six months as the Assistant to the Artistic Director of Minneapolis’s Frank Theatre. He remained an active part of Festival’s 2015 Theatre Series, taking on the role of Seymour in last summer’s Little Shop of Horrors and joining Johnson in the fall production of Noises Off. Regarding his return to Festival Theatre, Kaltwasser said, “It’s an exciting time for the theatre, and an important time, so I was honored when the organization approached me to see if I had an interest in returning.” When asked about his thoughts on the Civic Auditorium’s renovation, Kaltwasser said, “My greatest hope is that the upgraded space will provide an opportunity for new local patrons to come by and check out the Festival Theatre scene. If we’re doing our job well, we are creating work that resonates in meaningful ways with the people who live and invest in this community. So, more than anything, my desire is that everyone in the St. Croix Valley develops or deepens a strong and positive association with their local theatre and the work that’s being done on the Festival Theatre stage.”
The decision to bring both artists back to Festival Theatre came after two current staff members, Pam Vlasnik and Andrew Bradford Benson, announced their departures. Vlasnik, who began her time as General Manager in February 2013, will be moving on to a new position in the St. Croix Valley and is excited to embrace her new status as “patron” to Festival Theatre. “There truly is never a dull moment on this staff, and I’m sure I’ll be able to take a lot of the improv skills I’ve learned here on to my next position!”
Benson, who took on the role of Interim Artistic Director in January of this year, has been a staple at Festival Theatre for several seasons. Ever since audiences were first introduced to Benson in 2012’s summer production of Man of La Mancha, he has been a constant asset to the Theatre Series, serving frequently as an actor, costume designer, director, and choreographer. For his next venture, he’ll assume a slightly different role -- as student. In the fall, he begins classes at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison. “Working at Festival over the course of five season has been a huge blessing,” says Bradford. “My first season here came at a time when I needed some artistic inspiration and it reignited my passion for what live theatre can do in and for a community. Without these past few years, I would not have had the courage to take this big leap and start my next adventure. For that, I will be eternally grateful.”
In the midst of all this change, Festival Theatre remains grounded in its mission of making the arts welcoming to all people. “There are a lot of moving parts right now, but so much of being an artist is learning to collaborate with others and to work creatively towards a deadline, so it all feels very positive and exciting,” said Kaltwasser. “The practical realities of adjusting to a new space and a new staff dynamic present plenty of challenges, but the individuals who make up the staff, board, and volunteer community of Festival Theatre are really inspiring and fun team members and I’m delighted to jump back into this theatre’s current.”
All the while, the work goes on. This Saturday, July 23rd, Steel Magnolias opens at the Franklin Square Black Box space. This much-loved tearjerker will run alongside the interactive mystery show Clue: the Musical, which performs at the Taylors Falls Community Center, and Private Lives, Noel Coward’s classic comedy about falling in and out of love, which can be seen at Franklin Square. For ticket information, and to hear about our weekly improv shows and the upcoming Youth Acting Intensive, please call the Box Office at 715-483-3387 or visit the web site at www.festivaltheatre.org for a full schedule.