LeeAnét Noble comes from an extended line of an incredible household of native theater makers, and she or he’s conserving all of it within the household as the brand new inventive director of Journey Theatre, DC’s longest-running youngsters’s theater and pre-eminent musical theater coaching academy for youth. A former baby stage actor herself, she’s a pure for making the connection between household, the performing arts, and theater for younger audiences.
A DC native and alum of Howard College’s famed Division of Performing Arts, Noble ascends to the place after a nationwide search. She succeeds Chil Kong, who resigned in August following employees complaints about dangerous employment practices. Journey Theatre is celebrating its seventieth jubilee with plans within the works for 2022–23, its 71st season.
Simply two weeks into her new function at Journey Theatre after a number of years of transformative work as Shakespeare Theatre Firm’s director of fairness and enrichment, Noble took time to speak with DC Theater Arts about concepts that form her eclectic goals “to do every thing potential in theater.” LeeAnét Noble is a lady with a plan — motion plus artwork utilizing the immense potential of theater to alter lives and rework society by increasing its attain amongst younger individuals.
(This interview has been edited for size and readability.)
Ramona: Earlier than we discuss your skilled work I’d like to speak a bit about your private journey in theater. How would you describe it? What was the dream you had?
LeeAnét: I actually grew up within the arts. I did my first present at age two in Cramton Auditorium at Howard College. My mom, Lauretta Malloy Noble, was at Howard at the moment, and my grandmother, Loncie Malloy, was additionally a graduate of Howard College Division of Music and Faculty of Divinity. I fell in love with theater seeing my mom on stage in Santa Claus and the Mom Goose Rock.
I used to be only a baby to the mom within the shoe operating across the stage, however I bear in mind being captivated by her. I used to be like, “I wanna do this too.” She used to supply reveals with huge celebrities, and I watched her and her mom carry out collectively. She additionally performed the drums and taught me easy methods to play the drums. I just about wished to do every thing my mom did. After which as soon as I touched it, as soon as I did it and stepped into it, I felt that power, I felt that surge.
When my grandmother handed away — I used to be solely six on the time — my household was attempting to clarify what occurred and why all people was grieving. I had simply achieved my first recital the place I received to sing and carry out in entrance of the church. So I stated, “The place’s the recital with Mother-Mother that we do collectively?” They usually stated, “It’s not going to occur anymore.” It was the primary time I felt grief and disappointment; I simply broke down in tears as a result of these two issues have been so linked: household and performing. It felt like these two issues have been gone in that second. It additionally confirmed me how a lot I cherished it.
I’m additionally a author and a musician and I direct, so the dream has all the time been to do all that’s potential on this artwork. I can’t say after I was a child I wished to be an inventive director! However I wished to do every thing potential in theater.
What a beautiful background you have got with your loved ones being performers. I think about seeing them on stage gave you the arrogance and the idea in your self that you can do it too. Am I proper?
Yeah, I knew it was potential immediately. My grandfather was greatest pals with Dizzy Gillespie. I grew up spending time with him and operating across the Kennedy Middle at his occasions and speaking to him. At the moment my grandfather was additionally working at Howard College. Everyone knew Mr. Lawrence Malloy, with the white fits and the hats, and all people knew my mother. So I’ve been all all through that tremendous arts division since I used to be actually a child.
You aren’t new to youngsters’s theater and theater schooling along with your years at Disney Theatrical Group earlier than your current work at Shakespeare Theatre Firm. So going from Shakespeare to Journey must be a simple transition for you, shouldn’t it? Or are you anticipating inventive alternatives at Journey which may current new and completely different calls for for you?
Effectively, I’m in that transition proper now and the work that I’ve been doing at Shakespeare Theatre Firm from an EDI perspective [equity, diversity, and inclusion] — creating anti-racist insurance policies and motion plans, connecting with recruitment, directing occasions and readings, having a voice as a part of the inventive crew — has created a combination of motion and artwork that has actually ready me for the transition into Journey Theatre. My first step is simply listening and assessing. There are plenty of positions that I’m going to be creating and hiring. The time period of the interim government director [Jeanne Ellinport] is up, in order that search has begun. Normally, if you happen to go right into a theater in an inventive director function, every thing is preset; you need to come into anyone else’s season and plan from there. However I’ve the chance to make a agency basis that’s fueled by what I’ve realized in EDI and theater areas over the previous 20-some years.
I’ve a small employees proper now, however they’re wonderful. I really feel it is a good alternative to construct one thing that’s really lovely for what occurs on stage. , it’s arduous to search out that true reflection the place each the productions on stage and the within of the theater are at a sure degree. We’ve seen revolutions taking place in theaters throughout the US and folks having to work backward to sort things. That is the chance for me to construct a basis and proper it and use what individuals have shared and what persons are experiencing to make a greater place.
What excites you about working in youngsters’s theater particularly?
It’s on my path. Within the work I did with Disney Theatricals creating and being on the event crew for junior and child packages of productions, I used to be on the crew for Lion King KIDS and Lion King JR., which children are doing all around the globe now. Nearly 15 years in the past, I began working with Creativeness Stage and walked into that house at the moment probably not realizing the world of kids’s theater and TYA [theater for young audiences] and was simply captivated. I’ve labored with them ever since. A TYA touring manufacturing that I directed for Creativeness Stage known as 10 Seconds goes again on tour.
My mom and I simply completed doing a youngsters’s theater undertaking with Cleveland Play Home that was targeted on serving to younger individuals get by way of grief. We wished it to really feel like a giant hug as a result of there’s been a lot in connection to grief specializing in our youngest individuals, our future, our most treasured. There are enjoyable productions that simply carry pleasure, however there’s additionally a strategy to infuse social and emotional studying that youngsters don’t get at school, educating them exterior of faculty the place they’re not at a desk however they’re taking it in in numerous methods.
I actually love the place youngsters’s theater goes. With the 10 Seconds undertaking for Creativeness Stage, COVID occurred whereas I used to be engaged on it, so we turned it into a movie. And we have been seeing cops break down in tears and younger individuals have been saying, “My voice is being heard right here.” So many issues can occur that may assist to form the place we’re going as a society if we begin with our youngsters and join not solely leisure and enjoyable but in addition studying and coping methods that could be tougher for academics and fogeys to get youngsters to soak up.
I’ve additionally been a instructor for a really very long time, and I like working with youngsters, I like working with younger individuals. I consider myself as a giant child in some ways. Having a background in creating curricula and dealing in schooling departments in all places from Cleveland Play Home to Manhattan Theatre Membership, it’s one thing that I like.
My mom and I created a program with Brooklyn Academy of Music years again that targeted on vision-impaired and blind college students. We went in there and we helped to enhance cognitive studying and functioning by way of the humanities. It was simply so lovely and so superb. And the academics’ response was: That is one thing that our college students by no means received in bodily remedy; their motions are bettering a lot by way of dance as a result of they’re not fascinated by it in the identical method. Additionally, I did plenty of collaborations with Maryland Faculty for the Blind through the years creating packages.
I’m actually huge on collaborations. My theater pals, different inventive administrators, different theaters: how can we join and create lovely items that join with the household? I’m enthusiastic about all the probabilities.
You’ve stated that you just wish to “make inclusive magic for households.” What does that magic appear and feel like? One of many challenges of kids’s theater is to make it family-friendly — so dad and mom don’t really feel they will a youngsters’s manufacturing only for their children. What are your concepts for making reveals that oldsters wish to see too?
The main focus prior to now at Journey has been on the three-to-six-year-old vary. I actually wish to increase the voices that we present and hook up with. For example, the latest TYA reveals that I’ve directed are very a lot items that everybody can hook up with. It’s in regards to the content material that you just do and the standard of it. The present my mom and I simply did at Cleveland Play Home, Teddy Bear Mountain by Lisa Langford, had every thing for each age, from passing out little teddy bears to creating certain there was music that every one ages know — like clips of Stevie Marvel and artists the youngsters won’t know, however they’ll really feel the bounce to it, and adults will say, “That’s my jam.”
Having that combination of issues which can be going to stimulate all people, it’s just like the magic that occurs in a Disney present or a Shrek-like film the place “I received that, however they didn’t get that.” Then there are some issues that the youngsters are going to like and simply bounce off the partitions with. The adults recognize these moments as effectively.
I wish to actually increase the attain. I wish to get into anime. I wish to get into connecting with younger artists who’ve been making waves on the market and discuss to them and say, “Let’s make a play about your story.”
You may have spoken about eager to “construct your individual crew of changemakers in theater.” Given Journey Theatre’s current challenges and management adjustments, what’s your strategy to crew constructing going ahead?
I feel transparency is essential — so all people is aware of the place we’re at, the place we’re attempting to go, and what we’re attempting to do. I feel the place some pitfalls can occur is when individuals step in however they’re not conscious of the place the theater goes or what’s going to occur, not what has occurred prior to now and the way we’re shifting ahead. So much like what I’ve achieved in different areas, my strategy is having an motion plan and spending time listening and taking in what’s occurring.
I’ve this path that I’ve created: it’s restore, rebuild, renew, reopen. That’s the trail that I feel must happen. Rather a lot has occurred on this house. There was every thing from fires to the pandemic to closing, and we have to restore as a way to totally envision the long run. I stated earlier than I stepped into this place that I wasn’t going to return in and simply begin planning a season; these items have to occur earlier than we reopen. So in constructing the crew and interviewing individuals — in rising how we’re assessing how theater ought to look and the way theater ought to really feel from the within out and the surface in — my aim is to be very upfront that that’s the place we’re: we’re restoring, rebuilding, and renewing, and we’re doing these items earlier than we reopen.
Are there any new EDI initiatives for extra inclusivity being deliberate?
I’m a number of proper now, I’m in discussions, and my aim is that we now have necessary EDI trainings for not solely the employees but in addition the board. The crew is small proper now, and since I’ve come on, we haven’t had any new hires, however I would like this to be a part of the onboarding course of, ensuring there are EDI trainings for these which can be within the house in addition to those that are coming into the house.
Are you able to share any highlights of what we’d anticipate for the 2022–23 season?
I’m basing the season not solely on the wants of the group and what younger persons are experiencing now but in addition on our crew. I’ve acknowledged that in lots of different areas, manufacturing groups are smaller now, and infrequently the season doesn’t mirror that. So that’s one thing I wish to ensure that I take note of. It’d imply a smaller season the place it’s not 5 reveals however possibly three reveals that we put our coronary heart and soul into versus extending everybody. I don’t wish to put an excessive amount of on the employees simply because we’re wanting to reopen and do lots.
Along with the quantity of reveals that we tackle, I’m ensuring I make aware choices within the content material of the reveals. I’m huge, enjoyable titles that everyone is aware of in addition to new creations based mostly on what younger persons are experiencing and going by way of. I wish to have a combination of enjoyable titles that carry pleasure and assist to heal, titles we could also be acquainted with, and others which can be new to the TYA canon.
I wish to do some worldwide programming. There are some younger individuals in a faculty that I work with in South Africa, and I actually wish to join them in. The identify of the varsity is Amajika [Performing] Arts. Over this previous yr, my mom and I wrote a TYA play that was a finalist for Reimagine TYA [a new-play program of TYA/USA], and the scholars at that performing arts faculty in South Africa did a studying of it. I’m wanting into methods to carry a few of the artists at that faculty to the Journey house, and this as a celebration of tradition and fusion with younger individuals from different locations connecting with our individuals.
There’s additionally Journey Theatre’s Musical Theatre Middle, a plethora of courses the place I can have affect on the programming and curricula. We’re at present looking for an schooling supervisor to associate with me in pushing ahead and creating skilled alternatives. I’ve plenty of contact with casting administrators. I wish to do an actual, pre-professional program and supply alternatives for the scholars which can be at that faculty to have time on stage and to be part of skilled productions. It appeared as if Journey Theatre and the Musical Theatre Middle have been separate entities earlier than due to how they have been operated, however my aim is to carry them collectively in new methods. I’m enthusiastic about having a voice within the imaginative and prescient for what the varsity will do.
Any closing ideas you want to share?
I’m actually wanting ahead to collaborations and dealing with different theaters within the space. I additionally write, so I’ve plenty of different tasks I wish to use with this chance. Trying into tv and movie alternatives, I feel what we found with all of the streaming throughout COVID was that there are different avenues that may join into theater in new methods. I’m enthusiastic about this chance to actually discover all of the choices.
Journey Theatre MTC educates and evokes new generations of theater artists and audiences with distinctive theatrical experiences. To study extra about its productions and academy, go to adventuretheatre-mtc.org/.
LeeAnét Noble is new inventive director of Journey Theatre MTC (information story September 1, 2022)
Journey Theatre employees allege unfair pay and unsafe working situations (reporting by Nicole Hertvik, July 30, 2022)