At a time when the nation’s wealth is largely in the hands of a shocking few, Philadelphia theater has mostly avoided a similar fate. Not all the movers and shakers in Philly’s stage circles run companies with multi-million dollar budgets and thousands of subscribers; still, the work of the city’s nearly 100 small and mid-size troupes regularly rivals their large counterparts in artistic excellence. Just ask Kevin Glaccum, artistic director of Azuka Theatre, who has become one of the most influential figures in our diverse cultural landscape. Under his leadership, Glaccum says Azuka’s mission has been “to give voice to people whose voices go unheard.”
Helming a theater company with a modest annual operating budget of $250,000, Glaccum—who’s as brilliant directing actors on stage as he is administrating their artistic needs behind the scenes—is familiar with the struggles that face the majority of Philly’s performance ensembles. In recent years, Glaccum has emerged as one of the leading advocates for Philly’s small and mid-size companies as they attempt to navigate the challenges of operating during a prolonged recession.
The first example of his influence was the creation of the Off-Broad Street Consortium. Originally conceived as a way for these often economically-challenged companies to get more bang for their buck, Off-Broad Street evolved into an organization that addresses one of the most pressing concerns for many Philly companies: the lack of affordable rehearsal and performance space. “Many audience members associate companies with the space they perform in,” Glaccum tells PW. “It can be really challenging to build an audience when every show you perform is in a different theater.”
Working with the nonprofit Art for Sacred Places, Glaccum took a lead role in orchestrating the birth of the Off-Broad Street Theater, a 90-seat space just below street level in the First Baptist Church at 1636 Sansom Street. Opening in 2012 with Azuka’s production of Jordan Harrison’s gender-bending comedy Act a Lady, it has since housed productions by all but one of the consortium’s companies. Currently the home for Azuka and fellow consortium member Inis Nua Theatre—which, like Azuka, has its offices in the building—the Off-Broad Street Theater has provided more than an affordable, appropriately-sized performance venue for many of the city’s nomadic ensembles. Equally important, it has given them a sense of identity.
The companies performing at Off-Broad Street typically specialize in an alternative brand of theater that pushes the boundaries—the kind of productions favored by Philly’s annual Fringe Festival audiences. Not surprisingly, people came out in droves for Azuka Theatre’s Fringe Fest-related stagings.
“The people who attend the Fringe expect edgy fare, and we always draw well. We discovered, however, that audiences that saw us at the Fringe were often unaware of the other shows in our season,” says Glaccum. “One reason we formed Off-Broad Street was that we wanted to let people know that the quality of the work they saw at the Fringe was available in Philadelphia all year round. The greatest advantage to having our own space is that audiences now know where to find us.” The strategy has paid off: Azuka now boasts nearly 100 subscribers to its 2013-14 season.
In addition to his work with Azuka and Off-Broad Street, Glaccum currently serves as board president for Theatre Philadelphia. Created to fill the void left by the 2012 closing of the Greater Philadelphia Theatre Alliance, Theatre Philadelphia is presenting the 2014 Barrymore Awards this October, a ceremony sure to be scaled down from its glammed-up galas of old. After the demise of the Theatre Alliance—which managed the Barrymores previously—a series of meetings attended by a notables within Philadelphia’s stage community took place, the first at Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theater.
At that meeting, Glaccum said, “it was very apparent that people felt an organization that focused exclusively on the needs of the Philadelphia theater was still wanted by the artists in the community. The things that really came through as a result of that first meeting and a subsequent town hall were that people wanted the Barrymores to continue. It was clear that people also wanted an organization to market theater in Philadelphia. The main goal was to put butts in the seats. Terry Nolen [artistic director of the Arden Theatre Company] got a bunch of people together, and Theatre Philadelphia was born.”
Like Glaccum and Nolen, several members of Theatre Philadelphia’s all-volunteer board of directors have their hands full running their own various companies. Asked why he makes time to serve as the board’s president, Glaccum seemed surprised by the question. “I do it because I think it is a special community,” he said, “and that Philadelphia theater is vital to the city.”