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Inside Track: His vision for the theater is to be part of the change
As managing director of Actors’ Theatre, Kyle Los will use his business development experience to engage local businesses.
In November, Kyle Los joined Actors’ Theatre as managing director.
He brings with him three years of business development experience, several years of hospitality experience, and a passion for performance and theater he has been cultivating since childhood. Los is eager to bring those three areas together to help the nearly 35-year-old community theater regain its financial footing and grow its relevance with today’s audience.
Los had been serving on the Actors’ Theatre board since the beginning of 2012. He said the board had been having conversations about how best to move forward and decided hiring a new managing director was one of the first steps it needed to take.
“We needed someone to come in who would be able to offer vision and direction,” Los said.
Following the retirement of Actors’ Theatre founder Fred Sebulske in 2007, Actors’ hired Kyle Amanda Dutkiewicz, who served in the managing director role from June 2007-May 2010.
Since that time, Actors’ Theatre filled its various needs with a slew of people in volunteer roles, but it became apparent to the board that a paid managing director was important to the theater’s future.
“We’ve had really good people in positions, but they haven’t been holistic positions enough to really run with it,” Los said.
Los’ hiring means Actors’ Theatre is now back to two paid staff members, the other being Chris Carnevale, director of operations.
Sebulske, who was a faculty member with the Grand Rapids Community College theater department, founded Actors’ Theatre in 1980. He was a strong leader with a clear vision, and Actors’ thrived under his tutelage, but by his retirement, funding had become a challenge — and remains so today.
Los said a lot of his time will be spent building relationships with the business community to try and gain financial support for the theater, as well as re-engaging community members.
An additional funding challenge for the year ahead is making up the money Actors’ previously received annually from GRCC, which for the 2013-2014 season was $19,000.
Actors’ decided this past April to cut its financial ties to the school. While the theater pointed to the financial challenges the college was facing as its reason, there may have been more to it than that. The theater frequently had come under fire from two GRCC board of trustee members who believed the school should not provide funding to a theater that regularly produced plays the trustees deemed as failing to meet “a standard of decency.”
The decision allows Actors’ Theatre to move forward without the yearly threat of losing the funding, but, of course, it also means the organization must find another revenue stream.
Los is convinced it can be made up through contributions.
Actors’ is sustained currently by grants, contributions from donors and ticket sales. Los said about 20 percent of the funding is from grants and the rest is split fairly evenly between ticket sale revenue and contributions.
Actors’ is one of very few community theaters that pays its actors, and Los said that would continue.
“When we are going for grants, it’s really important for them to see we are investing in artists, which is another part of my five- to 10-year plan,” he said.
“If we can get this growing, I really see us being more of a place that can help sustain artists as opposed to just a place that is using artists.”
Los will use his business development experience to try to engage local businesses. Prior to joining Actors’, Los managed GRid70, a collaborative design hub, which hosts creators from Amway, Wolverine World Wide, Steelcase, Meijer and Pennant Health Alliance.
Los described his role with GRid70 as a “choreographer of collaboration.”
“It was really becoming that extra team member for each of the teams that worked in the building,” he said. “Even though I didn’t actually work side-by-side with them, I knew what they were doing, for the most part. I knew their projects, processes, so it was as if I were a co-worker with them. I could observe working habits, individual abilities, interests, so I could help facilitate collaborations between them.”
Now, he hopes to use that collaborative know-how and his connections with those companies to draw support for Actors’ Theatre and its productions.
“I’m really excited about re-engaging in unique ways with the business community, really emphasizing community engagement and how we are seeking to participate in the growth of Grand Rapids.
“Coming from strong businesses, big businesses — Meijer, Amway, Steelcase, Wolverine — they all have such a huge influence in the city, and to be able to work with a small organization that is seeking to make a big impact and grow it, I want to make sure that those companies realize what we are doing.”
He acknowledged that, in the past, it sometimes has been difficult to get funding from local corporations because of some of the plays the theater stages. He said the stigma of being a “controversial” theater will have to be overcome for some companies to get involved.
He noted Actors’ Theatre does not set out to be “controversial” but that it does not shy away from issues of the day that may be controversial.
“We have a strong passion for community engagement and social justice,” he said. “We specifically say we do thought-provoking work.”
Los said play selection is top of mind for him as he develops plans for the next five and 10 years.
“The community when we started 35 years ago is different than the community now,” he explained. “We cannot be doing the exact same shows we did 35 years ago because it’s a different community now. So I’m working with play selection to make sure that we are doing works that are important to Grand Rapids right now.”
He noted he still believes in Sebulske’s original vision and the original mission of the theater, which is “bringing West Michigan the best in entertaining, innovative, challenging and thought-provoking theater.”
Los said Actors’ is at a point where it can really work with new talent and help develop the theater community in Grand Rapids.
“We’ve got the ability to workshop things, we have a really strong talent pool of designers and actors, so let’s start shopping new works from people,” he said.
“We get submissions from around the nation all the time. What do we do with those? How can we start more specifically engaging with new works?”
He said while Grand Rapids isn’t currently considered a theater hub, it has the potential to be one.
“I really believe the more Grand Rapids is gaining popularity in arts and design and all of these things, theater will come with it, and we need to step up and be a part of that change, as opposed to just waiting for that change to happen around us,” he said. “It’s not going to happen otherwise.”