BERLIN — For the past six years, Kyler Taustin has been bringing theatre back to the very region he felt compelled to flee to follow his artistic heart at a young age. Growing up on the Eastern Shore, Taustin says he felt like an outcast, despite being a part of one of Ocean City’s most well-known and respected restaurant families because this region lacked arts and culture.
After settling in Boston, Taustin co-founded the Brown Box Theatre Project, which now tours several states, including multiple performances in our region throughout the year.
Taustin and the Brown Box Theatre Project are back on the shore this week with an edgy dramatic play called “Brilliant Traces” and will return in September for the Brown Box’s sixth annual outdoor Shakespeare performance. Performances of “Brilliant Traces” are scheduled for Friday, June 17 through Monday, June 20 at the Ocean City Center for the Arts. All performances start at 8 p.m. Tickets can be secured at www.brownboxtheatre.org.
Taustin sat down to talk about growing up an artsy kid on the shore and how leaving home eventually made him realize the importance of bringing the arts back home.
Q: Tell me what you’ve learned about not only your own personal artistic journey in those six years of bringing the Brown Box Theatre Company to the region but also what you’ve learned about how the region has changed in its acceptance of the type of theatre and performance that you love?
A: Well, we have found over the six years that people do love live performance, and they do love theatre, so there is hope for having theatre around more regularly. We’ve gone from bringing our programming down here once a year to this year coming down four times with three modern contemporary scripts and our sixth annual free Shakespeare tour. So, for me personally, I’ve been working hard to find the difference between what I want as an artist and what this community and all the communities that we serve crave from the arts.
What’s happened in six years is that it has become its own entity. It used to be, to an extent, what I wanted to do as an artist, but what’s beautiful about this growth and beautiful about the collaboration with our growing audience, we can find new ways to cater to the communities that we are serving. I love being a part of it, and it’s been a blast to share and expand the horizons of people’s knowledge of what theatre is and what it can be. It doesn’t have to be living room drama, it can be something new and different.
Q: You had a very similar tale to artsy kids who lived in small towns: you didn’t really fit in, you felt like you needed to run off to the big city. So you did that, like many kids, and now inevitably in this sort of poetic 180-degree turn, you’ve been bringing the arts back to the very community that lacked what you were looking for artistically speaking. Talk about what it was like growing up for you on the Eastern Shore.
A: I struggled a lot with living here. I was definitely an artsy kid and I focused on academics. There were a lot of things that made me the typical outsider. There weren’t very many opportunities for me outside of school, or even inside of school for that matter, to find my niche or my group or my people, so to speak. I found glimpses of it when I performed in the eighth grade play, and that was probably the first seed that was planted that said, ‘ah, this is where I fit,’ and I was fortunate enough where my family could take me to New York City or to Washington DC to see theatre, and that was another step in helping to cultivate my understanding of what it was that I wanted to do.
This community, at the time, had nothing. I think there may have been some community players that did some things here or there, and Salisbury University may have had some things every once in a while, but in general, for someone my age, there was no way to explore that craft. So, I felt very quickly that if that was the path I wanted to take, I had to leave. If you look at the community now, I think you see a lot more opportunity for the youth of the community and for people across the board to experience and see all different forms of art: music, dance and theatre.
It’s really exciting because hopefully what that is doing is offering the opportunity for people who want it and for those who don’t even know that it’s an option, to become patrons of the arts or to become artists. Without the opportunity to explore what that means or to experience it as an audience member or an observer of the work, I think you end up with a loss of perspective. Like I said, I was fortunate enough to gain that in leaving, but I think just recently are people able to stay and be given the opportunity for some of that perspective and to see how art can really create a well-balanced life.
Q: While it is not argued that art can give you a well-balanced life, unfortunately the perception and oftentimes the reality, is that art does not necessarily give you the most fruitful life from a financial perspective. It is not easy to be an artist, as we both know.
A: Yeah, being an artist is not the path to try and make the big bucks.
Q: That’s another interesting part of your story, because your family is a very well-known and successful as restaurant owners in the resort. It would have been easier if you would have just gone the route of going into the family business. Did you ever question the path you took to follow the arts in those moments when rent was due or you didn’t get the parts you really wanted?
A: Yes, very regularly. I feel like people in every career get told ‘if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, do that, because this is not a career for the faint of heart.’ Oddly enough, I was teaching a class as a guest speaker at Emerson College, which is my alma mater, and I said to the students, ‘at some point, you are going to wonder if you should be doing something else. You will have moments in your life where you will think, why in the world did I do this?’
But, I said that they have to remember why they loved this craft in the first place. Because the rent will come due, the parts won’t come, the audiences will dwindle, people will lose interest and sometimes, things will happen like your set won’t get built or people will quit. It is still a business, and it’s still collaborative, so things will go wrong and your rent will still be due, but you will have moments of ‘why am I doing this?”
Q: Do you think there’s a misconception that because you are an artist, you aren’t good at business?
A: I think that’s a guaranteed thing that people believe. There are so many who believe that artists can only be creative, but some of the most successful artists are also the most successful business people in society today. This is still sales. This is still creating something that relies on a patron, just as my family relies on someone going to eat at the restaurant, or a store relies on people coming to buy their clothes. Just as a lawyer needs clients, we need an audience.
Yes, there’s an emotional element that maybe the lawyer or a restaurateur doesn’t require because we need them to be emotional available to us as well, but there is still a bottom line. The reason I haven’t quit, is that each time, I go back and think, ‘I do this because this is how I’m going to share what I have to say in my life.’ I have things I want to say, and I have stories that I want to tell and things I want to expose people to, so the starving artist lifestyle, and the problems or issues that I face are all worth it when I sit in an audience and watch a show that I’ve directed and hear people gasp and see people cry and hear people laugh. Then I realize that I do this because I’m able to share a story with people. That’s what theatre is all about, and that’s what I fell in love with, and that’s why I keep going back and why I stick around.
Q: There’s an interesting juxtaposition because many theatre companies, many artists, many musicians, or many actors are struggling to do just that. They struggle to get butts in seats and encourage people to leave their homes and their social media feeds to come out into the world and see a live show. On the other end of that spectrum however, is a show on Broadway called “Hamilton” that has become a cultural phenomenon. When you know the struggle well, and you see the miracle of live performance and what a show can do to an audience, does that frustrate you or does it give you hope?
A: ‘Hamilton’ is an inspiration in the fact that a story is being told through theatre and through music and everyone wants to see it. It gives me hope because it’s also brand new. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
I have these deep pangs of fear that all anyone wants to see is Neil Simon. To see a show like ‘Hamilton’ with a cast like ‘Hamilton’ and a leader like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created something from history, yes, but really, from the ground up. To see a show like that received and awarded and these crazy ticket prices is a hope in that it means that the United States and really, the world, is still ready and craving something new. That allows me to try and figure out what kind of story I want to tell, which is why there are shifts in every artist’s career and I think I’m at a personal turning point about where and what that story is for me.
Q: Let’s talk about the story you’ll be telling on this run through the region. It’s a play called “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson. You are directing this play. Talk about what will excite audiences about this play?
A: “Brilliant Traces” is more linear than some of the things we’ve done in the past, so I think that makes it more accessible, and that’s exciting for people who are ready to hear a story they’ve never heard before. It was originally produced in the 80’s, but it’s incredibly relevant and has a lot of heart that I think people will access. For the Berlin audience, there’s a runaway bride in this play too [laughs], so there are characters a story that you may be familiar with, but at the same time, asks a lot of new questions about loss and pain and how we are willing and wanting to access that and confront the things we do on a daily basis. We had sold-out performances of the play through our run in Boston, and we got great reviews, and we are excited to bring it to the people of the Delmarva region.
Q: For you personally, what is your favorite part about coming home, and directing a play or performing in a play at home?
A: Two things. The first is that I’m hopeful and am thrilled to be a part of expanding some of the perspectives of the community down here. Like I said, I struggled throughout my childhood to find out where I fit, and there is a culture down here that I am very excited to be a part of sharing something new, for better or for worse.
I think I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any nostalgia to it all as well. To be home and to be with my family is very special and to share what I do and who I am with the community is now something that I can do with hope and with excitement. I am a firm believer that the arts and theatre has a value for any community but especially for young people.
(To listen to the entire conversation, click online to The Dispatch Download at www.mdcoastdispatch.com/podcasts.)