A Home Away From Home

A Home Away From Home

I landed my first acting job in 1999. It was summer stock on Cape Cod where I got to perform in 9 musicals in 10 weeks. I lived in a cabin with three other guys in bunk beds and we showered outside. I loved the experience, but the living arrangements could’ve been better.

Over the years, I’ve visited and lived in theatre housing all over the world, from the bad (an unheated shack made of old set pieces), to the great (a 2-story duplex with cable TV and single rooms for everyone). The rest fell somewhere in between, but were usually defined by one common trait: actor housing is a place where inhabitants come and go quickly. The average acting contract for regional theatres is about 8-10 weeks.

I mention this because, in addition to providing shows for public enjoyment and gainful employment for visiting artists, Festival 56 also provides a rare mixture of the two: since 2004, all but a tiny handful of our visiting artists have lived with host families in the community during their stay in Princeton.

Now, the average person can count on two hands the number of places they have lived in their life: maybe 2 places in childhood, a college dorm room, 2 or 3 apartments after college, a starter house, the upgrade to a bigger place, and the post-retirement downgrade to something more practical. I think that’s a good average. An actor, on the other hand, can easily reach that number every year, between 3 or 4 acting jobs and finding sublets in between those jobs. And that’s not even touching the touring world, where the cast lay their heads in a different state almost every night. So, to say the least, housing accomodations are an important consideration for actors.

I’m very proud of our track record in Princeton of showing our appreciation for the artists who come to inspire and entertain us by opening our homes to them. I think it shows them that, no matter who they are or where they come from, when they are a part of the festival, they are welcome additions to our community. We show them that, not just by letting them live with us, but by actively demonstrating how much we value their presence: a welcome picnic on the day they arrive, a 4th of July celebration, a City-hosted BBQ. And to the ever-moving theatre artist, that is a powerful and important feeling. The feeling of Home. The strong friendships and lasting bonds that visiting artists forge with their host families never fail to impress me. In fact, there is an artist returning this season who is staying with the same host family she started with eight years ago!

And, interestingly enough, our visiting artists don’t need much to feel like they’re living in the lap of luxury. Provide them with a quiet room, a hot shower and a little space in the refrigerator, and after a hard day of rehearsal, they’re in heaven. They don’t need to be entertained or to have someone do their laundry; they don’t need anyone to cook for them or clean up after them. They are just average working professionals who are a little more homeless than you and me.

When I was logging my miles on the road as a transient actor, I would have really appreciated a place like Princeton, where the fact that I was an unfamiliar face didn’t mean that I was a stranger, but rather that I was an welcome guest.

*If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a host for Festival 56, please contact Dexter for more information either by phone (815.879.5656 x13) or email (dbrigham@festival56.com).  Length of stays for visiting artists at the festival range from 3 weeks for visiting directors to 9 weeks for technical staff.



About festival56drama

Dexter Brigham is the Artistic Director of Festival 56, Illinois' largest summer theatre festival, located in Princeton, IL. Founded in 2004 by arts supporters in the community working with a group of theatre artists from New York City, Festival 56 now offers 10 mainstage productions each season in three venues. Our programming ranges from free outdoor Shakespeare in the park and productions like Ibsen's A Doll's House, Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie or Moises Kauffman's The Laramie Project to world premier productions of new musicals like Absolutely Anything (a musical adaptation of The Rivals) and familiar classics from Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and many others. Visit festival56.com for information about the current season!
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