Thursday, September 13, 2012

ARTIST PROFILE: Tony Broom of Vancouver's Serendipity Playhouse

Bringing Up Baby

Tony Broom
Tony Broom and his wife Sandra have no children together, but they have the newest theater child in town. The new Serendipity Playhouse is their baby. Barely a year old, the playhouse, located at 500 Washington Street in Vancouver, is coming of age, experiencing growing pains and about to enter its terrible twos. This toddler will certainly be one to be reckoned with.

And Tony Broom, the company’s artistic director, is no absent parent; he’s got an agenda for rearing the theater on the Vancouver scene. He’s been around the theatrical block a few times with three decades of experience. Though performing from an early age, he’s been involved in drama since high school, active on the Portland theater scene and has been in plays on this side of the river as well.

Broom (right) in "Streetlight."
“Once I started,” said Broom, “I knew it [theater] was where I was supposed to be.”

He’s no talker though, he’s a doer—a man of action. Within months of meeting Sandra they eloped. Even when they were dating she recognized his entrepreneurial and leadership skills and encouraged him to start something of a business venture.

A Star Is Born

After a sort of epiphany, while teaching acting classes for the Vancouver Community Education, he proposed a theater. She said she would get behind that and before you could say “peek-a-boo” it seems Serendipity Playhouse was born.

It was a passion he was meant to pursue. He said, “With the theaters I was working with I could see there was a ceiling…” He had vision beyond what was status quo.

Broom and the playhouse are adding their own spin to the “Northbank Theater District.” For the most part you won’t see them producing the usual presentation of popular, pabulum plays. They are different.

Broom (left) in "Angel Street" (All Photos Provided)
Broom is contemplative and introspective. A thinker. A leader. He’s more about telling stories through characters than he is about telling stories about himself. Nonetheless, he took time to share with me about who he is, what he loves and why he’s doing this theater thing.

While working his full-time day job in inventory control at Freightliner in Portland, the English major (The Evergreen State College) moved from the Rose City to Vancouver in 2009. The playhouse project was begun and, after a little more than a year of preliminary planning and a site search, remodeling ensued and in August of 2011 Serendipity Players mounted their first production at the Minnehaha Grange. The theater opened to a five show season soon after that.

Children of a Lesser God

Broom in "Deathtrap" at Slocum House Theater
Five shows a season, currently directing many of them, he has a distinct vision for growth. “In a perfect world,” he said, “we’ve got a three-year lease…we’d really like to outgrow the space right when the lease is about to expire.” The small theater seats only about 40 patrons and, though it is quite nice, it doesn’t have much backstage either.

He’s optimistic, but he said that “no one goes into this [type of theater project] with the thought of really making money…but in a perfect world I’d be happy to quit my day job and do this full time.”

The 47-year-old said it’s almost a full-time job already. “It will definitely keep us busy in retirement.” And he certainly means “us.” Sandra puts in her fair share. “The amount of work she does is…I don’t want to say ‘backbreaking’, but…” she does all the web work, communications, recruitment and community outreach. The community outreach aspect is part of their mission. 

They want a diverse theater with people of color, the deaf, the blind and the other-wise physically challenged to take part as both patrons and players.

“On a personal level,” he said, “she has a huge amount of faith or belief in my ability…which is to me, well…helpful.”

Broom (left) in "Sylvia" at Serendipity Playhouse.
Broom's favorite “roles” on stage are two: either playing Sidney in Deathtrap at Slocum or as Jack in Angel Street in Portland. The other would be a more personal thing: A post elope party for family and friends when he and Sandra told their story of how they met and ups and downs of their journey together.

He said that came easy for Sandra—who is a story-teller—though difficult for him. He’d rather share through a character than himself.

His worst experience on-stage, he said, “happened at the beginning—probably my second play.” Shortly after a scene’s blackout, after his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the faces of people he knew. That flustered him and he barely managed to get through the next scene. That, he said, taught him the necessity of focus. He said he had also been in two plays that required him to wear a dress.

He really wants to play George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but that he didn’t feel like he could audition for the upcoming Clark College show which opens this October due to his load at Serendipity. He also wants to play Oscar in The Odd Couple.

Golden Child

The cast of "Steel Magnolias" at Serendipity Playhouse.
Directed by Tony Broom.
He said the non-profit 501 (C) 3 theater is not just about what he wants to do. He said there is a great team and board of directors in place.

“Artistic Director or not, I didn’t want this to be [not only about] the tastes of one person.” A team makes the selections for each season. They endeavor to be unique. “If the season looks largely interchangeable with Magenta or Slocum there’s really no reason for us to exist.”

“If we’re going to fail I’d rather fail on our own terms artistically rather than mounting a couple of seasons I couldn’t justify,” he added. He and Sandra and the board wish to bring theater alive to new patrons. He said that when they were dating—though Sandra wasn’t really a theater person at the time—they would go to plays and she would see him in plays. She noticed that the audiences were rather homogenous. They hope to integrate and diversify the Vancouver theater scene.

Serendipity opens The Sunshine Boys this fall and will offer Christmas Bells during the holiday season. Though not part of the main stage season, in February they plan to do something that will celebrate Black History Month.

By Gregory E. Zschomler

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