Nathaniel Shaw takes the reins at Virginia Repertory Theatre
For Nathaniel Shaw, Richmond’s diverse and passionate theatre community was a huge part of why he took the job as Virginia Repertory Theatre’s new Artistic Director.
“[Richmond] felt like a place that was already so wonderful and skilled in theatre production, and on top of that had phenomenal untapped potential,” said Shaw in an interview with GayRVA. “It felt like a perfect storm of an opportunity for a future and a career.”
In his late 30’s, Shaw brings musical theatre roots with boot-strap-style NYC theatre production to Central VA’s largest theatre company.
Shaw spent his early years in the Bay Area of California but moved during his formative years in the suburbs of Phoenix, AZ. The child of two accomplished dancers, he remembers vividly telling his dad “I wanted to be exactly like [you], but not a dancer.” But that didn’t last long.
When he got to middle school, his older brother told him the kids who have the most fun are in choir and his intro to the performing arts began. By the time he hit his junior year of high school, he was jumping at every stage opportunity he could get.
“It was deeper ingrained in me than I realized at the time… it felt like a normal childhood, they were just mom and dad,” he said, admitting his parents’ impressive dance history didn’t really sink in until years later. “The fact that [my father] was on the cover of Dance Magazine the month I was born didn’t really resonate with me until I was much older.”
Sure enough, he followed in his father’s footsteps to a T, becoming the first second-generation performer to enter the famed Paul Taylor Dance Company.
He attended University of Northern Colorado for musical theatre with an emphasis in acting, and while the program was a bit remote and unsung, he thought the training and discipline he received was great.
“I was able to have a very full experience that included main stage performing every single semester,” he said. All this while also touring with the school’s dance company – it was a busy few years.
While his resume is both lengthy and impressive, with gigs around the US, some of his most memorable work came from his years in NYC where he started his own theatre company, Active Theatre.
“I was cleaning the theatre every day before the show… the same story that everyone who founded a theatre company has,” he said, laughing about the company’s early years at a tiny dive theatre in NYC’s West Village. “We just went for it.”
It was a pretty big departure from his dance and musical theatre background. The size of the company and complexity of musical production forced Active to focus on dramatic productions as well as developing original works.
He got his first taste of RVA’s theatre scene when he was invited to direct Peter and the Starcatcherfor VA Rep back in late 2015 as a kind of tryout for what would be his new job. The production was a smash for the company and received enthusiastic reviews.
“[Richmond] is a city with a great deal of talent and passion for doing great work,” he said. “It’s very rare, if you’re not NYC, Chicago or LA, to see this many devoted and passionate theatre artists. It’s a real testament to Bruce [Miller] and Phil [Whiteway’s] commitment to nurturing theatre artists and their ambitions.”
Miller decided last year to scale back his duties and the Virginia Rep board led the national search for a new Artistic Director; that search led them to Nathaniel Shaw.
Before long he was offered the full time Artist Director gig and while his directorial debut doesn’t happen until March 2017 with End of War, he has gotten the chance to workshop a passion project of his, River Ditty.
Written by his brother, Matthew Keuter, and produced with help from the Olivier Award-winning Glass Half Full productions, River Ditty got a stage reading in NYC and a workshop run here in RVA a few months back.
“We were never concerned we’d repeat something, but now, so many plays I love and adore have already been done in a certain time frame or decided it’s better suited for one of our collaborations,” he said, comparing his 6.5 years with Active to VA Rep’s 40 year legacy as he looks to begin creating the 2017-18 season. “The wonderful thing is we have such a great staff and leadership… to discuss ideas with.”
He assured folks to not expect anything “earth shatteringly different,” but rather a continuation of VA Rep’s ability to “offer a diverse experience across our venues.”
“There will be a couple things in the signature season that seem like bold selections, but there won’t be anything… that pigeon holes us,” he said. “We will continue to be the big regional theatre in town that offers a diverse menu for a diverse audience.”
Expect VA Rep and Shaw to take your breath away as the 2016-17 season comes to an end and the 17-18 season gets announced in the coming months.
Freddy Kaufman aided in writing this piece
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