100 Creatives 2012: Kenn McLaughlin

Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Kenn McLaughlin oversees an eclectic mix of theater at Stages.
Kenn McLaughlin takes risks, which is no small thing when you're in charge of a community theater where some audiences may be more comfortable with, well, more comfortable fare. But McLauglin has also brought the edge along to the play selection at Stages Repertory Theatre. For every Panto Red Riding Hood there's something like In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl. For every showing of The Winter Wonderettes there's also a Grey Gardens that played to such acclaim in Houston in 2009. In the process, area actors get more shots at some pretty meaty roles.

McLaughlin had been at the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland when he came to Houston and Stages on the business end of the operation as managing director, but for six years now, he has been the producing artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre as well. He picks the plays, directs some of them, and "I have to decide how I'm going to pay for it."

At the same time, he says, the risks are justified "because we have to be alive as people. The ordinary or commonplace is never going to wake us up."

Photo by Bruce Bennett
Nancy Johnston and Susan Koozin in Grey Gardens
What he does: Some people would consider some of what McLaughlin does a dream job. He sees plays, traveling to New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles to take in what they're doing in theater, assessing what he thinks would work well in Houston. At the same time, putting on 11 shows a year means he doesn't get out as much as he'd like.

And he's not only looking for plays, but performers and directors. For instance, he liked the work of John Moletress when he saw him direct a play in Washington, D.C., kept in contact and when the time was right, offered him the directing job for Mistakes Were Made.

And sometimes, despite his best efforts, his juggling act can't always make everything work out immediately. "Many a great play has been set aside because the moment was not right to produce it."

What inspires him: His staff and the people he works with. "Most have been with me ten years or more. They have stayed through financial nightmares."

Asked for his favorite performances, he reels off Grey Gardens, Four Places and The Blonde, the Brunette & the Vengeful Redhead.

Why he likes it: "The people I work with on every level. They challenge themselves every moment of the day. They completely surprise me," he says. "I love it when we nail it."

If not this, then what: That's an easy one. He'd be a teacher. In fact, throughout his career he's taught on the side at the college and high school level. "I like challenging people to think in broad terms, engage in Socratic dialog."

If not here, then where: He's liked every place he's been: Chicago, then Cleveland and now Houston. "I'm really suited to a Southern city," he says, but if he had to pick one "other" -- he would have to say Chicago.

What's next: "I turned 50 this year and I got my muscle car. I want Stages to be evergreen. We have brought this thing back from a debt-riddled, battered little shop. I would like to know it stays past my time here.

"Part of my next is figuring out what that is."

Photo by Bruce Bennett
Luisa Amaral Smith, Cristine McMurdo-Wallis, Jack Young in Four Places

More Creatives for 2012
(In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).

Justin Whitney, musician
Antone Pham, tattoo artist

Susie Silbert, crafts

Lauralee Capelo, hair designer
Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer
Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ

ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer

Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director
J.J. Johnston, theater director
Mary Margaret Hansen, artist
Richard Tallent, photographer
Viswa Subbaraman, opera director
Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist
Sonja Roesch, gallery owner
Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor
Sandy Ewen, musician
Camella Clements, puppeteer

Wade Wilson, gallery owner

Magid Salmi, photographer
Carl Williams, playwright

Location Info


Stages Repertory Theatre

3201 Allen Parkway, Houston, TX

Category: General

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