Theater Emory's new artistic director pushes tradition of innovation

By Emma Yarbrough | Emory Report | Sept. 14, 2017

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Brent Glenn, a theater studies lecturer and previously Theater Emory’s resident lighting and sound designer, takes the helm as artistic director this semester. Emory Photo/Video

This fall, Theater Emory welcomes a new artistic director who aims to reinvigorate the 30-year-old organization into a more outward-facing institution while building on its strong tradition of innovation and new works.

Brent Glenn is a theater studies lecturer who previously served as Theater Emory’s resident lighting and sound designer.

“My primary goal as artistic director will be to expand Theater Emory out into the community more," Glenn says, "to take shows off of campus and out into the world" —an objective that is in keeping with President Claire Sterk’s emerging university priority to deepen Emory’s engagement with Atlanta.   

Theater Emory’s model as a professional theater housed in a liberal arts and sciences program is relatively unique in the country, one where undergraduate students get to work directly with professional actors, designers and directors as artistic collaborators.

“It’s interesting putting artists from different generations in a room, knowing that each will bring a unique perspective on the subject matter at hand and somehow all the threads will come together into a holistic piece,” says outgoing artistic director and theater studies professor Janice Akers about the Theater Emory model. 

Akers reinvigorated Theater Emory’s commitment to creating new work during her five-year tenure, initiating the summer “Breaking Ground” new works laboratory and spearheading multiple productions of original plays such as 2014’s “Free/Fall: Explorations of Inner and Outer Space,” a collaboration with the Emory Dance Program.

“We tried not to rely on traditional modes of theater, but to create our own form,” says Akers.

New season pushes boundaries

Following in Akers' footsteps, Glenn plans to lead Theater Emory with an eye toward innovation. Glenn’s inaugural season looks to push the boundaries of Theater Emory and audiences alike with gory new works and an unprecedented collaboration with Emory’s film and media studies department.

The 2017-2018 season kicks off Sept. 21 with “Midnight Pillow,” inspired by Mary Shelley and the creation of “Frankenstein.” The production brings 13 playwrights and six actors together under the direction of alumna Park Krausen to ask the question, “What is it that haunts your midnight pillow?” — the quandary that prompted Shelley to write Frankenstein.

Halloween brings a rock 'n’ roll nightmare, “The Anointing of Dracula: A Grand Guignol,” written and directed by Glenn. In the style of French “grand guignol” theater, which specialized in naturalistic horror, the show will feature live music and special effects, running Oct. 26 through Nov. 5. “It will be blood-drenched and ghastly, emphasizing the horror effects throughout,” says Glenn. “Not for the faint of heart.”

In the spring, Brave New Works, the Playwriting Center of Theater Emory’s biennial festival of new work, comes to the stage Jan. 30 through Feb. 18.

Theater Emory then takes on yet another new challenge — filming a television pilot in collaboration with Emory’s film and media studies department. During spring break, Theater Emory’s Mary Gray Munroe Theater will be converted into a sound stage on which a cast and crew of students and professionals will bring an original television script to life. Directed by film and media studies professor Rob Barracano, the pilot gets its premiere screening on campus April 20.

Creating art with impact

In a cultural moment when entertainment is dominated by streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the physical experience of being an audience member is at the crux of how theatrical visionaries like Glenn approach creating art with an impact. 

“I want to explore new and dynamic interplay between audience and performers with a focus on changing up the traditional relationship between the two,” Glenn says.

“For today's audience, I define ‘New Works’ as anything that changes this physical dynamic. New Work constitutes not only a new story, but the fashion in which the audience experiences the story,” he explains. “This is not appropriate for all plays, but it's a dynamic I hope to engage more as artistic director.” 

Reflecting on her time as Theater Emory’s artistic director, Akers celebrates the transformative power of theater, while also emphasizing the relationships built between audience members and artists.

“Getting humans together to think, imagine and have a collective, powerful experience is not only a wonderful way to offer up one’s time and talent, but in my opinion, it is essential,” says Akers. “The arts can do this: blow old notions out of the water, endlessly surprise us and change our point of view or simply bring us to a place of enchantment.  I am grateful to have had this opportunity.”