Elevator Chat: Jonathan K. Waller, Managing Director, Everyman Theatre
Jonathan K. Waller has been named Managing Director of the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. He will move from his current role as the theatre’s Director of Marketing this month, succeeding outgoing Managing Director Ian Tresselt.
MSAC: What drew you to a career in theater? Was there a special moment that you knew this is what you wanted to do? My background is as a writer and composer. My degree is actually in music theory and composition with a specialization in musical theater from NYU. What draws me to theatre is the same thing that draws me to writing music — and that is emotion. The art of being able to shape an emotional experience towards a cathartic purpose, driven by a story, is incredibly rewarding to me. It’s a creative process that generates one of the most important things we can develop in our lives: empathy. Through empathy, we get closer to Truth. So, for me, theatre represents the possibility of discovering Truth, all while being entertained. Not a bad deal.
I was hooked at a very early age. Was there a special moment that hooked me? It was probably in seventh grade when I was at McDonogh School that I knew I wanted to be in the theatre. It was in a musical revue featuring the songs of Motown from “yesterday to today” and I had earned one of the coveted solos in Boyz II Men's mega-hit "End of the Road.” It sparked a deep love of all things “love” — ballads, romance, emotion, and the vehicles that embodied, captured and delivered love. The energy I got on stage and off as a result of that experience became irresistible and has only deepened as my work has evolved from performing to writing to arts management.
MSAC: With the success you have had in marketing the Everyman, what are your future plans for the theater? The kind of work that happens at Everyman is the kind of work that I admire most. It's work that seeks Truth in performance. Everyman achieves it through a resident company and a commitment to finding the Truth in the character, in the relationship, in the story. Why is this important? Theater has a responsibility to hold your attention and ideally entertain, but at its best it also has the ability to hold a mirror up to us as people, as a society, and ask us important questions about life and how we interact with the world. The closer that reflection is to the Truth, the more it will resonate within us, the more it has the potential to make a difference in our lives — possibly even change the world. I know, I know I believe theatre can change the world.
Vinny Lancisi, our Founding Artistic Director, is a master storyteller. The artists who bring our stories to life on the Everyman stage are master storytellers. Because we have a resident company of actors and designers who work together year after year, our own reliable shorthand developed. This is why I am moved every time I see an Everyman show. What excites me about Everyman’s future is that from the Board room to the box office, we believe that producing dynamic and engaging theatre is really just the beginning — not the endgame. Everyman recognizes the opportunity we have through theater to connect to people's lives — to our community — and make the world around us a better place. These are the kinds of things we’re working on now as we continue to grow the work on our stage and deepen the audience experience.
MSAC: With the great experience you have accumulated throughout your career, is this position your ultimate goal? I mentioned earlier that I went to McDonogh School. Its founder, John McDonogh, once said, “Study in the course of your life to do the greatest possible amount of good.” This sentiment represents what you might call my ultimate career goal. I want to make the world a better place. I believe that I have found a medium in theater and a platform at Everyman to really roll up my sleeves and put a dent in the universe, as Steve Jobs would say.
MSAC: As managing director, will you have time to continue to compose more original works?
Thank you for that question! The answer is yes. I am a writer and a composer because I have to be. I can't, not create.