EMAV 10 Bites: Sarah O'Connell, Theatre Director

Updated: Mar 9, 2019

In every neighborhood, there is someone who makes the Arts a part of their life, and our community. You'd be surprised to discover how many different people use the arts to improve the quality of life in or hometown. EAT MORE ART! VEGAS will feature them regularly in our series "10 Bites."

What performing art do you do?

I am a Theatre Director. Since 2003, I have served as the artistic director of The Asylum Theatre, which brings new work and playwrights from across the country to Las Vegas for development and production. I also teach theatre at CSN, and manage EatMoreArtVegas.com, along with the Vegas Valley Theatre Awards Program, aka. "The Valleys."

Why do you do it?

Life on the outside makes so many demands on us, but it's on the inside where we really do the living. The arts, and the theatre in particular, honor the person deep inside our shallow shell. It helps us to understand ourselves and each other a little better. I also see it as an important public service. It has a role in accepting the disenfranchised, and defending our democracy. Theatres are place where populations express their points of view, often with nothing but their own bodies and voices. Big productions are expensive to create, but you don't need a dime to commit an act of theatre- only someone in the same space to witness and interpret what you are doing. The right to gather freely and express one's self is what makes it possible for society to join together, and with a vote, to self-govern. When I see that I am not alone in life's struggles, the courage to keep going is stronger. Theatre artists dedicate themselves to using every tool at their disposal for sending whatever message they have effectively, and in person. It is a calling that goes way deeper than a career.

I like the challenge, the daily demand to innovate, and the ability to imagine a world that goes beyond material boundaries, and face inner fears. I have several friends and colleagues that were sheltered with the rest of Houston due to the hurricane. They have been performing their butts off to entertain, giving kids outlets to release some tough emotions through improv, and helping people forget for a moment in those shelters. When you have nothing else, you still have the ability to make theatre together. And the show tunes...there's a song for every feeling, and they run through out my head constantly. It feels great to experience them in full voice in a crowded room!

What’s your favorite production/performance so far?

I've worked on over 60 projects in the past couple of decades, so this one is tough. I have loving take-aways from all of them. a couple of years ago, I produced and directed a play called VEILS, about women in Islam, which gave me an opportunity to collaborate with members of the local Muslim community, and an award winning playwright named Tom Coash. I learned so much, and made some wonderful new friends. It was also a chance to give an actor her first big break, and now she is off to grad school, with a bright future ahead. The play had won a national award, but at the time many companies were afraid to delve into the subject. But I'm a rebel, and theatre artists are at their best when they are emotional firemen, running right into the place everyone is afraid of, so that others feel safe enough to enter and face an issue. The play was commissioned originally back East. Our production lead to a company near San Francisco mounting their own version. Theatre helps us pass some courage across our country.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

Theaatre is primarily a working class career...with more than one job to make it possible. I have had 42 jobs in the last 25 years. Everything from KFC, to HR, to store sample server, to travel agent, to college professor, to owning my own production lighting business. It makes me crazy when people call artists elitist, nothing could be further from the truth for most. Here's a tip for employers out there...hire a theatre person, they are over-achievers. They have to be, or even the simplest show doesn't get done. They will over achieve in their day job for you!

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

My favorite headline from a review so far is "Theatre The Doesn't Suck." That's the goal every time, but it's not always the critical opinion!

What would you be doing if you weren't performing?

I haven't performed in 20 years, but if I wasn't directing right now, I'd probably be working in corporate Event Management by day and advocacy on the side. Managing a project on time and on or under budget is very satisfying. Helping create opportunities for people where they think there are none, is the most rewarding of all. And I'd be cooking a lot. When I was home with very sick children, cooking was my only creative outlet, and that's when I realized how deep the compulsion to create runs in an artist. When I was home with my kids, I was addicted to the Food Network.

Name something you love about Las Vegas, and why.

The locals are incredible! Whether you were raised here, or from somewhere else, everyone has a unique story, and their own rich traditions. So many great small businesses and restaurants. We all share a spark of the pioneer spirit, and we know what it means to work for a living. And Vegas locals are all about outside of the box thinking. You might be serving cupcakes at the PTA by day, and wearing 4 feet of feathers on your head for work at night.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

In general, "Do unto others, as you would have done unto you." The reverse is also important. "Care for yourself as well as you try to care for others." As a director, "Have a point of view, and understand that everyone else has one, too."

What superpower would you have and why?

Teleportation. I am a life-long Dr. Who and Bewitched fan because I want their magic. The theatre is the closest I can get to instantaneous time and place travel.

Any future projects?

I have put a lot of myself into founding EatMoreArtVegas.com over the past two years, and into growing it's capacity to serve the public, and the artists among them, so that more people will continue to make the most of their life here through the arts. The Asylum will also continue it's mission of giving new plays a home, and finding innovative ways to tell the stories that have been published before, but that Las Vegas rarely gets a chance to experience. We intend to join in other companies' productions of Tennesse Williams' work this season, with my favorite little known post-apocalyptic work of his, "The Chalky White Substance."

You can reach Sarah O'Connell at sarah@asylumtheatre.org and learn more about her work at sarahoconnelldirector.com.

Are you a local artist of any discipline? Do you work with a company as a designer, stagehand or administrative staff? We'd love to get your 10 Bites to share. Fill out a form here, and you might be featured in a post!


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