Joel Bassin, Firehouse Theatre’s new Artistic Director, embraces company’s troubled past, looks towards promising future
Joel Bassin made his wife promise that he would not die in their typically small New York apartment.
Despite having lived there for 30 years, and teaching theatre at Hunter College off an on for ten of those years, he could not envision himself there for the rest of his life. So when he saw a job opening for a Producing Artistic Director at Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre, he decided to take the job based on a little research and a lot of intuition.
Bassin Had a good feeling about the city he had never been to and the theatre he had never heard of.
But he’s not the kind to shy away from the unknown. “You can research and make decisions all you want, but ultimately that’s just hypothetical until the day you are there and thats when everything changes. You can’t predict that, you have to jump into it.”
Jump into it he did; Bassin has restructured The Firehouse Theatre with three different types of performances, Firehouse Plays; the mainstage shows, Firehouse Fringe; a hodgepodge of performers who use the space for unique performances, and Firehouse Studio; an incubator and stress free zone for experimental performances.
His ultimate goal being to transform the theatre into more of a performing arts center.
Bassin has also decided to dictate a theme for each new season, this years theme? Radical change. He chose this because of the change his life has undergone since making the move to Richmond, a city he describes as Minneapolis meets Atlanta meets Amsterdam. However, before Bassin was ever part The Firehouse Theatre’s future a radical change had already occurred.
As many in the Richmond theatre community know, Carol Piersol; past Firehouse creative director, was forced to resign by the theatre company’s board. This decision caused many loyal Firehouse actors, creative staff, and audience members to boycott the theatre. A problem Bassin has now inherited as the new creative director.
“There are a lot people who have reached out to me. Who I’ve met with, who have wanted to meet with me because they say they want to know what kind of, in some cases idiot, in some cases really courageous human being, would have walked into this situation.” Said Bassin.
The self proclaimed problem solver has taken a proactive stance on the situation. Meeting with many of the folks who have issues with the firehouse theatre as well as well as Piersol herself. “One of the things I said to her was gosh I wish I would have been here because I probably would have been your ideal managing director and none of this would have happened, but you can’t turn back time.”
He understand Piersol’s feelings toward the situation as well as those who are boycotting the theatre because of their loyalty to her.
Ultimately though, he just wants to The Firehouse Theatre to be the vibrant place it once was and continue to chase Piersol’s original vision. He joked that he is “willing to have an exorcist come in” if that’s what it takes to get people to come back.
Bassin has big plans for The Firehouse, He wants to change the layout of the theatre so it feels more “black boxey” then it already does. He also wants to continue to give a space to performers like those in the Dreamers Theatre; a group that gives those with a range of disabilities a chance to perform. One of his favorite experiences since coming in in January was hosting Highland Springs High School’s performance of In The Heights. A few of the actors in the show had been displaced from their homes, getting to perform was very important to them.
“You don’t transform folks like us, middle class actors, theatre people, it’s just a hobby. We like doing shows but to have theatre actually have that impact on people’s lives is just amazing.” Said Bassin
The Firehouse Theatre’s Mainstage season opens July 16th with The Boy In The Bathroom. For ticketing information, or to see upcoming season events visit www.firehousetheatre.org
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