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Catalyze 2023: Helen R. Murray, American Stage

Bill DeYoung



We’re asking thought leaders, business people, and creatives to talk about 2023 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2023.

American Stage’s track record of crafting high-quality theatrical experiences is unquestioned. The bay area’s longest-lived professional company has survived, and thrived, and innovated its way through more than four decades of shifting trends, public opinions and quantum advances in technology and the shiny devices that aid in storytelling.

The person in the biggest creative chair is the producing artistic director. Although there’s a board of directors to answer to, and a (hopefully) large pool of sponsors and donors who need to be treated well, it’s up to the producing artistic director to make the major decisions about what, just exactly what, will get put up on that stage?

New to this particular gig is Helen R. Murray, who arrived around three months ago from Aurora, Colorado, where she was running a smaller, but no less prestigious, theater.

So far, Murray says, things have been going quite well. “My days are long, but they’re very full, and I’m excited to come to work every day. The staff is wonderful.

“I hit the ground running and it has been a sprint. And that’s just me trying to get my arms around everything. It’s such a warm and welcoming and very inter-connected community.”

Warm, welcoming and inter-connected don’t exactly put butts in seats, to paraphrase an old theater saying, and so staying innovative – in front of the curve – is always necessary for survival. Keep the shows fresh, and keep them exceptionally well-crafted.

What Helen Murray looks forward to, she explains, is the idea of more and better collaboration, cross-pollination, in 2023. More stuff on the order of the current Christmas show (Wonderful Life), which is on a mini-tour of St. Pete venues that are not the American Stage homespace.

“We do have quite a few community partnerships here, but one thing I’d really like to explore is, how can I partner with other arts organizations?” she says. “I’m really excited that we’re doing our Lift Every Voice festival at the James Museum in March, but I would love to see more of that happen.

“I would like to find ways to collaborate in a more substantive way with other organizations, whether that be visual art, dance … I love it when arts interconnect. I love it when different disciplines within the arts work toward one project together.

“Not only does it bring our audiences together, it brings our art together. And I think that the creation can be really exceptional. So I’m looking forward to that possibility.”

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky from someone who’s still wearing new-girl Pollyanna blinders. If anyone can turn this dream into win-win reality, it’s Helen Murray.

“First of all,” she says, “we have to work under the assumption that art begets art. And art patrons beget art patrons. Many times I’ve been brought into an arts organization that was new to me because they partnered with an arts organization I already knew.

“It also brings our theater industry into different art forms, which broadens it, because theater itself has become quite a niche art form, in the modern day. So I look for opportunities where we can do crossovers like that – because if somebody loves one thing, who’s to say they won’t love another?”








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