Interrobang and Baltimore: A Love Story
Interrobang Theatre Company discusses starting a theater company, the Baltimore arts community, and organizing their company operations and dream space.
“We want it to be new. We want it to be relevant. We want it to be potent. We want it to challenge the theatre community and ourselves to be more creative than we were yesterday through the production and development of new plays written, designed, and performed by Baltimore artists. We are Interrobang.”
Daaaaaammmnnn, okay! This theater company is like the metaphorical hot person walking down a hallway with perfect wind-blown hair. They are confident, edgy, refreshingly honest, trendsetting, a little weird, and are (metaphorically) absolutely pulling off that mustard color that few people can actually pull off. Who are they, though? Interrobang is run by company members Katie Hileman (Artistic Director/Co-Founder), Sean McComas (Managing Director), Kiirstn Pagan (Producer/Co-Founder), David Brasington (Producer/Co-Founder), and Brady Whealton (Producer/Co-Founder). I met Kiirstn Pagan, Producer/Co-Founder of Interrobang, in my second season at Maryland's official state theater, Baltimore Center Stage. I admired her ability to be so effortlessly sparkly, poised and smart at all times. Its been a pleasure to see her continue to sparkle in this new role.
Yes, Baltimore. Interrobang Theatre Company is proudly based in Baltimore, MD. Interrobang founding/company members are proud graduates of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and have roots in the area. #gobigdawgs.
"It’s home. And it’s a very 'come as you are' type of city, which we are all about. We love that the arts community is accessible, warm, supportive, and willing to get weird."
But perhaps the most valuable reason, in my opinion, is this... "We wanted (and still want) to make the Baltimore theatre scene bigger and better and get people to stay here, rather than move to New York or LA or Chicago, to continue to make it grow, to help build a bigger, more vibrant theatre community."
Interrobang is part of an army of incredible artists in the greater Baltimore area. They are working to build the community right alongside theaters like Center Stage, Strand, Everyman, and Arena, Rep Stage, Single Carrot, and Stillpointe. You can check out more theater companies in the Baltimore area here on the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance site.
NBD Just Starting a Theater Company
Like most inventions, Interrobang was created out of necessity. "Artistic Director Katie Hileman graduated in 2012, she auditioned regularly in the Baltimore/DC area. After a year or so of the hustle, she was exhausted, and wasn’t landing the roles she imagined herself playing. After reading Shelia Callaghan’s Scab, she had the ~*cRaZy*~ idea to produce a show herself."
Katie reached out to old classmates Kiirstn, David, and Jessie and soon, they were building something pretty wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, they determined they had ambitions beyond just producing one show.
They publicly launched as a company in January 2014 and gained non-profit status in July 2014. You can see photos of their first production here, of Scab by Shelia Callaghan in March 2014. Oh, and then there's the all important funding. While they dream of hiring a financial/development consultant to beef up their bank account someday, they do it all solo currently. They rely heavily on individual donations, followed by grants, crowd sourcing, and sponsorships/partnerships. Using this funding, they are able to rent spaces to produce their art. In the past, they've produced shows at St. Mark’s Lutheran, Mercury Theatre, Emmanuel Episcopal, and the Strand Theatre. In 2019, they've produced shows at Fells Point Corner Theatre in the Upper Fells area of Baltimore City. But no matter the location... "When we’re looking for a space to rehearse or perform in, at the very least, we look for something safe, clean, and affordable. Bringing a new space to life and making it our own, even temporarily, is always a treat."
Their tips for those looking to start a theater company?
"Make sure you know why you’re doing it. Make sure that reason is very important to you because producing is hard and thankless and this reason, this passion, is what you will need to come back to that when the work gets hard."
What's In A Name?
"Co-founder Jessie saw the interrobang ‽ symbol on Tumblr in 2013 when initial conversations about the company were just beginning. We like to think that our work evokes the feeling of an interrobang--questioning and exclaiming at the same time."
In the 1960's, marketing agent Martin K. Specktor created the interrobang as a new advertising tool. Something that would stand out from the sea of basic punctuation and "signify credulity" when nothing else could. It was this same necessity which inspired Artistic Director Katie Hileman to bring her idea to her friends and theater makers. So yeah, it's perfect.
It's Got That New Work Smell
"We like telling the story that’s never been told before. We like working with writers to craft and hone new stories in a collaborative environment. We want the stories we tell to feel intimate, urgent, relevant, potent, and above all, new."
Interrobang charges into producing a new work daunting task without blinking. To break it down to the most basic steps of producing a show: They work as a team to review & choose submissions from local playwrights, create a marketing plan, hire creative team/cast, and coordinate all front of house aspects (such as ticketing, lobby design, concessions). They also make their shows as accessible as possible by offering Pay-What-You-Can ticketing opportunities.
"We very much do not care about making money on a show. Our goal is to make sure we pay our artists and that we can expose as many people to these new plays as we can."
Coming Soon: i will eat you alive
Speaking of new work, I was first inspired to reach out to Interrobang for an interview after I stumbled upon @iweyaproject on Instagram. As someone who battled (battles, let's be real, it's forever) with an eating disorder, this is something I want/need to see in the world. "In February/March 2020, Interrobang will collaborate with the Towson University MFA Theatre Arts program to produce Artistic Director Katie Hileman’s thesis, i will eat you alive, a project/play about, by, and for fat babes currently in development. The show will be written and directed by Katie Hileman."
Learn more here!
Organizing with Interrobang - In Their Own Words
On the Importance of Communication...
"It is a benefit (being a tight knit group of friends) because there is a shorthand to our communication. We all speak the same language, as it were, because we were all taught how to produce theatre in the same environment. We all have a similar idea of how we want the process to go, what the final product should look like, and what stories we believe are important to tell now.
We have found this dynamic difficult in the past when we are not communicating effectively as a team about our wants and needs, in relation to the company but also in our lives as a whole. We have gotten better at saying when we have hit a limit on the Interrobang work we can do and having other company members fill in as needed."
On Organizing Materials Without a Permanent Space...
"We don’t have our own theatre or office space right now, so in between shows, we keep all our company property (set materials, costumes, props, FOH materials, paperwork, etc.) in rubbermaid bins in our basement. Bins are labeled and organized based on the contents (set materials, costumes, props, FOH materials, paperwork, etc.). We don’t own anything right now that doesn’t fit in a rubbermaid bin. During shows, we do a lot of borrowing and renting since most things aren’t needed long term."
On Team Management...
"Scheduling and communication are key. We keep a comprehensive Google calendar with all important dates and deadlines that the whole company has access to view and edit as needed. We are also constantly in touch with one another. We utilize a group chat a lot and we try to meet at least once a week to touch base.
We primarily work out of Google. Our company calendar, email, and files are in Google. We receive submissions from local playwrights on a regular basis and we need to make sure to catalog them in a spreadsheet we keep in our google drive. We find it easy to share our Google calendar with the venues we rent from and the different artists we hire for different shows."
If you could create your perfect space...
"We would own it out right. It would be intimate (like 50-75 seats) and every seat in the house is the best seat in the house. It would have a small front gallery space, a main theatre space, a storage space, and a rehearsal space. All those spaces would be sound proofed as much as possible from the others so we could do lots of things at the same time. It would have good flooring (no holes), good acoustics, and high ceilings (not crazy high, but high enough to light comfortably). The theatre space itself would be light proof, but other areas would have great natural light. It would be a space where we program regularly, but are also able to open our doors to other companies to share at an affordable rental rate.
We would host more than just performances there—it would be a gathering place for the community for meetings, happy hours, events, and more. It would be accessible, physically, ADA compliant and all. But it would also be a place where people, like other artists and theatre makers, felt comfortable asking us to use the space- knowing that we would do our very best to try to accommodate their needs and that we as a staff would be available to help make their experience the best it could possibly be.
It would be centrally located in Baltimore and we would run it full time."
If you'd like to help them build their community, be sure to visit the Interrobang Theatre Company website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you'd like to send them a greeting card with confetti and $5, you can send them snail mail at P.O. Box 23265 Baltimore, MD 21203.