Since its founding in 1988, Actor’s Express has grown into one of Atlanta’s premier locations for bold and risky theatre. Now, they are continuing that trajectory with staff changes and an up-and-coming education program.
Formerly the National New Play Network’s Producer in Residence, Amanda Washington will be moving into the position of associate artistic director after two years of supporting the theater’s new play development programs. Her responsibilities will primarily be the same as they were — but with a greater focus on commissioning new plays and more interaction with the Actor’s Express apprentice company.
Justin Kalin is making the jump from casting associate to casting director, a position formerly held by Sheila Oliver, who will take on the position of artistic liaison. The two have already enjoyed a fruitful working relationship — Oliver insists that they could have been considered “co-casting directors,” and she expects that to continue as she plans to pitch in on casting whenever necessary.
As for Oliver, hers is the most radical change; she will be taking on a slew of new responsibilities that she and the rest of the artistic team will largely determine as they go. The main goal of the artistic liaison position will be to oversee Actor’s Express’s nascent education department, which Oliver will be building from the ground up with the help of Artistic Director Freddie Ashley. “It’s a very, very long journey,” Oliver says, adding that she’ll draw on her past experience in fundraising to support the development team in securing funds for these education programs.
While it’s too early to say exactly what the education programs will look like, it’s likely they will be geared primarily toward middle and high schoolers. It’s also likely these programs will intersect with and play off of the existing Actor’s Express apprentice company. This might mean expanding educational opportunities for the apprentices or having apprentices participate in educational activities with students. Doing so could open up opportunities for apprentices who are interested in theater education, enhancing their experience in that area. While nothing is promised at this point, it seems that exciting opportunities are on the horizon.
Washington and Kalin are similarly hard at work in bringing new programs to fruition. According to Washington, one of her current initiatives is ensuring that each production at Actor’s Express has at least one performance with an American Sign Language interpreter for deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members. She and Ashley are currently pondering ideas for season titles while seeking out new play commissions. Already, they have their first playwright in residence: local playwright Quinn Xavier Hernandez, whose play They/Them/Theirs is a commission for Actor’s Express.
As for Kalin, he is working to adjust the audition submission process to find a balance between the in-person process that we all knew before the pandemic and the virtual process that the pandemic necessitated. He hopes to find a way to integrate many of the positives that virtual auditioning provided, while bringing back the intimacy and immediacy of in-person callbacks.
When asked if there was a possibility for the budding education program to intersect with casting or programming, Kalin, Oliver and Washington all confirmed it is indeed a possibility. With Oliver’s experience in casting and her working relationship with Kalin, it will be simple for her to help open doors for younger actors participating in her education programs. Actor’s Express already has a long history of championing up-and-coming talent; just ask any of the former apprentices who have gone on to become active and present throughout Atlanta’s theater landscape. With this new focus on education, Actor’s Express is primed to continue that important work with even younger artists.
At the forefront of all this positive change is Freddie Ashley, who has proven to be a collaborative and supportive presence for Kalin, Oliver and Washington. Oliver made a point of thanking Ashley for his leadership and guidance over the years, while Washington expressed her appreciation for his support as she continues to grow and thrive in her position.
While these staff changes do not represent a seismic shift in the internal architecture of Actor’s Express, they are indicative of the growth expected and anticipated for this theater in the coming years. Some things may be changing drastically while some things may be staying the same, but it is clear that Actor’s Express is exploring the possibilities for where they might go in the future and how those possibilities might best serve the theater community of Atlanta.