Talking Head! with Iron Crow’s New Big Bird, Sean Elias
Hi, guys! Welcome to Talking Head!, a new feature on The Bad Oracle. These are interviews with the movers and shakers of the Baltimore small theater scene: administrators, managers, company directors, everyone who makes our community what it is. Keep tuned to this space several times a month for exciting announcements, heard-it-here-first shit and cute gossip.
Talking Head! with Sean Elias, Iron Crow’s New CEO
Sean Elias has been perkin’ on the Baltimore small theater scene for quite a piece. The Executive Director of Iron Crow Theatre (our local “gay theater”, if you will, more on this in a sec) for the past two years, Elias has proven that he has talents that are far, far beyond merely serving as Baltimore’s answer to Zachary Quinto. He has, in fact, been the go-to guy for the re-branding and re-conceptulization of that company AND landed the largest money those birds have ever seen. The shot of fresh blood worked, bringing Iron Crow into a new, broader age and making it a powerful player in the ongoing revitalization of Baltimore small theater. Now, Mr. Elias has succeeded previous Artistic Director, Steve Satta, to become the Artistic Director/Chief Executive Officer of Iron Crow, which is just the kind of insane I like most. The news broke only yesterday, with a series of ominous “THE PECKING ORDER HAS CHANGED” banners all over IC’s website and social media. We caught up with Mr. Elias today to see if we could get the actual scoop.
My first question, for you, Sean, is about Steve Satta. Steve has been practically synonymous with Iron Crow for six years. Are you worried at all about filling his shoes? Are you nervous?
Yes. I mean my biggest worry coming into this role was that Steve has this vast knowledge of the Baltimore theater scene. I’m relatively new here, I haven’t actually been in Baltimore a long period of time to establish those connections. It’s definitely something I knew would be integral to the success of Iron Crow going forward. That’s why we’re so happy/excited/honored that Steve will still be on the board of directors and also be involved with other artistic ventures, so Iron Crow isn’t missing out as I continue to build my own relationships with the artistic community in Baltimore.
Do you feel like you were the obvious choice for succession or were there others in contention for the role?
The Executive Director role wasn’t really set up in a way that allowed for succession. If the Artistic Director were to step down, a search commences to find another. And, actually, that’s really the way it is for a lot of theaters around the country. Most people have either a personal desire for the arts or for organizational structure and it’s rare that you see an Executive Director take on the Artistic Director role. It just so happened that I have both of those passions and a background in both of those things. There were other people up for the opportunity, there was dialogue and it also involved Steve’s recommendation. It turned out that I was the one that was chosen and it’s a real honor. Not just for the position, but for the promise and the trust of the Board in my artistic eye moving forward.
What direction are you planning on taking Iron Crow? Can you share with us your first priorities or is it a secret?
The timing of this is a little tricky. If this were an ideal world, this would happen a year from now. But it’s happening now. So, we’re going to really take the time to set ourselves up for success. I’m disbanding the company model – it will no longer be an ensemble theater. Artists will not fulfill administrative roles just for the chance to be fulfilled artistically. We’ve found this to be a tricky model. We’re going to get the right people for the right roles. We’ll be a producing house, if you will. Anyone can be a Crow. We’re also going to focus on grants and government funding. There will be some revisions of the mission statement as well. Iron Crow is known as “the gay theater” which is one thing I absolutely want to change. I want to broaden the public’s understanding so that they see queer theater as a mindset, a perspective, or an aesthetic rather than just originating from a sexual orientation.
I’m intrigued by your notion that Iron Crow will be broadening and maybe changing it’s identity as “the gay theater”. That identity is very dear to some people, audience base who haven’t necessarily felt represented by other theaters. Are you worried at all about broadening your scope and maybe alienating some of your core members?
I would be worried if I felt that broadening meant that we weren’t going serve or do stories that were specific to the LGBTQ community. It doesn’t mean we’re taking away or not doing so much as we’re adding to. Will you see gay characters at Iron Crow, absolutely, will you see work dealing with issues specific to the LGBTQ community, absolutely. But you’ll also see work like last season’s 4.48 Psychosis, which had no gay character and no obvious discourse around homosexuality. It was a queer telling, a queer look into the mind. It’ll be a mix. We’re proud to say that we’re Baltimore’s only queer theater, and all that that encompasses.
Do you feel Steve’s vision for the company was limiting?
Last year, with Steve, as a company, we agreed that we would be broadening the definition of the word “queer”. Steve has always said, “Is there really a gay community to serve in Baltimore?” because it’s so fractured. It’s so hard to find other organizations to partner with or even find interest. He really questioned whether there was a gay community in Baltimore anymore. Yes, I think that being a “gay theater” is limiting, especially in this day and age. But we’re by no means done. I’m torn with that statement.
Is Iron Crow an activist theater?
I don’t think that we do enough or have done enough, even though Iron Crow was founded as an activist theater. I do see that becoming a stronger part of our identity moving forward. I believe Iron Crow’s rapid growth forced the organization to focus on the production aspect. Moving forward you will see much more socially conscious work and ancillary programming and more educational programming related to civic engagement than we have done in the past.
One more question, Sean. Why? Why do you want to do this?
Truth be told, when I was told I had to move to Baltimore, for love, I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to live here. Truthfully. Then I got here and I realized how much opportunity and promise this city really has and how alive the arts are here. I’ve lived in pretty much every Mid-Atlantic city north of Baltimore and what I realized is that there’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of artistic quality and excellence in other cities that is still only percolating here. It hasn’t really had that jump start to be able to contribute to the national dialogue around theater. That’s really the biggest reason I can think of that drives me every day to go through the pain and the stress and the angst and the money and the dollars and the art and the actors. I feel that Iron Crow has the opportunity to become a destination theater here in Baltimore where we are producing edgy, new work with talented actors and through our contributions to the national dialogue related to the theater arts.
Got someone you think we should feature on Talking Head!? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.