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New Executive Director Brings Fresh Vision to SecondStory Repertory

Mark Chenovick has new plans for the theater after private donations saved it from bankruptcy last fall.

If tension doesn’t sound like a desirable workplace quality, the theater might not be your calling. For Mark Chenovick, executive director at , it’s essential.

“There should be tension,” Chenovick said. “A lot of artists need something to overcome. You’re going to need some tension between those who want to dream and those who want to realize.”

Chenovick now finds himself as the chief architect of seeing dreams realized at SecondStory, a commercial non-profit theater in . He took the position about five months ago, just after SecondStory returned from the brink of elimination. After 11 seasons, the theater was facing bankruptcy and the prospect of shutting down, but a fundraising push resulted in $80,000 in contributions to keep the theater alive.

“It was that widespread support that I felt was encouraging about the place,” Chenovick said.

Since taking the job, Chenovick has looked to counteract what he called a previous “spend, spend, spend” mentality and find middle ground between artistic and practical concerns, he said.

“We’re really trying to be more in-tune with our audience,” he said. “There’s that balance between shows that are educationally enriching and entertaining.”

That balance will translate into more family-friendly selections for mainstage productions and an increase in children’s theater productions, along with a greater focus on teaching, Chenovick said. SecondStory offers ongoing performance classes for pre-schoolers through high-schoolers.

But the changed focus doesn’t mean the theater is looking to abandon any notions of boldness. SecondStory is currently staging a production of William Shakespeare’s and the show hews closely to the original text.

“It can be frightening because I would consider that risky,” said Corey McDaniel, who is directing the production.

Just because the show has widespread name recognition doesn’t mean all audiences are prepared to engage with the unique rhythms of the language, he said.

McDaniel debated whether to water down the show or leave it alone. But other than scenes cut for length, the play remains largely unchanged.

“We need to be very careful not to underestimate our audience,” he said.

The production has also allowed the opportunity for actors with a wide range of experience to work together. Some have worked in the theater for decades, while several have only acted in a few shows. That dynamic is an important one, McDaniel said.

“We’re all learning from each other,” he said.

Chenovick sees SecondStory as an important stepping-stone for actors between small community theaters and the regional heavyweights such as The Village Theatre in Issaquah and Everett and The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.

“What SecondStory (has) always provided (is) an opportunity for people to practice their craft and their passion for performance,” he said.

Chenovick understands that passion, as he’s acted in a number of productions across the country since graduating from the University of Washington. But there’s much more to the theater than that, he said.

A recent day at Redwood Theatre, a community theater in Redmond where Chenovick also serves as president and treasurer, saw him working the box office, running the lights and selling concessions. There’s plenty of work to be done that’s not glamorous, he said.

Becoming executive director at SecondStory is a culmination of all of his theater experience — and something he couldn’t get away from even if he tried.

“This is always what I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” he said. “It’s been a conscious effort to get to a place where I could run a theater.

“I couldn’t control myself. I had to do theater. It’s sick; it’s a sickness.”

SecondStory's production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through Feb. 26. Future productions this season include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and On Golden Pond, along with children's theater productions of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and A Year with Frog and Toad.

Cheryll Leo-Gwin February 23, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Hooray for Second Story Theater. I'm glad to see that they will not abandon serious theater entirely. While it's important to educate children in all of the arts (and kid friendly programs generate needed income), I hope that there will always be a place for serious theater in Redmond. Let's remember that the arts are not just for kids! The arts contribute to our quality of life, and brings new businesses and revenue to Redmond.

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