As this is being written, dreams come true on the other side of our country. Actors, directors, and film crews are celebrated with one of the most recognizable honors in American culture—the Academy Awards. For most of the country’s actors, days aren’t full of jet setting, walking down red carpets, and rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite. It’s difficult to imagine what this life is like, but it’s not just the George Clooney’s and Anne Hathaway’s of the world that get to experience the joy of living out their dreams: The world of acting and theater is not only alive for many, but accessible through the opportunities of local theater companies.
Granted, actors and actresses earning their chops at local theaters aren’t idolized and recognized as celebrities at the Oscars, but they are some of the most hard-working individuals you can encounter. Pursuing dreams isn’t necessarily easy or lucrative, but these people create and perform genuine pieces of art. Luckily for Ashevillians, live theater is a thriving art form and many avenues exist to experience it.
Anam Cara Theatre Company consists of individuals focused on making quality art that inspires progressive change. The work created is inspirational and thought-provoking. “We find value in all of the arts and strive to produce an eclectic mix of work that is not exclusive to simply traditional theater,” says Erinn Huntley, creative director and cofounder of Anam Cara Theatre Company and Collective.
Erinn is a dedicated artist and activist with a vibrant theater background behind stage and center stage. An Ohio native, she moved to Asheville to create the theater she wanted to experience. “I wasn’t seeing a lot of avant-garde work or work that was addressing social issues in a direct way here, and I wanted to be able to add it to the mix,” she says. Her vision comes to life in a wide variety of shows with subjects ranging from naked girls reading to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the theater is making its impact in our area with astounding talent and infectious curiosity.
Anam Cara Theatre Company seeks new folks to get involved who may have not found artistic homes in other venues. “We strive to provide a safe space for those who may find themselves on the outskirts of the mainstream of societal support,” Erinn says. The theater uses many mediums to progress its mission. “We often incorporate music and art, as well as the written and spoken word into our productions,” Erinn says, “creating a unique blend of multiple art forms, achieving a distinctive aesthetic that sets us apart from other theatre companies.”
But such a noble mission can provide challenges. Finding an affordable rental space with sufficient parking, which also is well ventilated and large enough to provide ample space for the theater’s endeavors has proven to be a challenge. Ultimately, Erinn selected a space that allows her to have both a theater and an art consignment business. The joys most definitely outweigh the negatives: “We love being in West Asheville,” Erinn says. “This building is old, but it has a lot of character. We’ve put a lot of heart and hard work into it, so it feels good. It’s pretty great to look around and be proud of how thrifty and creative we are, too. So many of our things are made of upcycled materials and were found for very cheap or free.”
The Anam Cara Theatre Company is just getting started, and the goal is to do more than plays. Hope runs high to host musical events, open mic nights, storytelling, dances, classes, workshops, and more. Erinn says that they “hope to continue addressing social issues, sparking dialogue, and providing a safe space for people.” As it continues to grow an audience and community, the theater company is outgrowing its space and has begun to do shows at Toy Boat Community Arts Space to supply ample seating and staging.
One of their most popular shows, Naked Girls Reading, finished its two-year anniversary there. The show is almost exactly what it sounds like—a cast of women reading various books, poems, and essays completely nude. But, it’s more than just entertainment—it is a show taking the naked female body and making it something that is not objectified or over-sexualized. Erinn has been the director for each of the 10 themes of shows.
“For me, the primary purpose of producing and directing this show grew out of the desire to address the taboos of nudity and the objectification of women’s bodies in our society,” Erinn says. “That continues to be the driving force behind my ongoing pursuit of producing and directing these shows, but I’ve gained way more than I could have ever imagined by undertaking this project.”
Asheville is one of the few selected cities in the country to put on Naked Girls Reading. “[The show] began by a simple conversation in a burlesque community in Chicago and has grown into an international movement,” Erinn adds. “It is my hope that this production will aid in society’s acceptance of the simplicity of the human form and not reserve it exclusively for shock value or to engender humorous or sexually driven feelings or responses. It was important to me that this production be an entertaining, light-hearted, representative of Asheville and allow audiences to appreciate and admire the elegant simplicity of the female form.”
In a town that proudly exclaims its progressive views and lifestyles, Anam Cara has found a home. No community, however, is perfect, and Anam Cara is here to provide the fuel to light the fire of change in all of us. “There is always work to be done,” Erinn says. “We want to push for equality for all people and create a vehicle for dialogue in our community. We want to be bold and honest while providing the community with attainable, exceptional, high-quality artistic performances.”
So maybe Erinn, her talented casts, and dedicated crew aren’t getting paid millions of dollars to star in a film being honored at the Oscars. They aren’t decked out in designer attire and their theater space is quite modest compared to any movie studio. But perhaps the mission is deeper, more important than what is being celebrated in Hollywood. Anam Cara Theatre Company is pushing boundaries with its message to create work that inspires and progresses our community into thinking deeper about our society and the issues within it. It encourages audiences to open minds and spirits to understand new points of views and celebrate differences. That may be the most brilliant performance anyone could ever do.
Check out Anam Cara’s website at anamcaratheatre.com and like their page on Facebook. This is a surefire way to keep up with upcoming events, auditions, and more.
Michelle Grasty is an educator who lives in Asheville. She loves singing, fashion, and this amazing city she calls home.