Building a magic factory
With a new space in south Reno, The Actory’s co-owners work on turning their theater company into the stuff dreams are made of
Saralinda Seibert, co-owner of The Actory Theatre Arts Center, has a thing for artifice. It’s no surprise that a woman who acts, directs, teaches and produces theater would love make-believe: Her job is to construct scenarios that take audiences out of the mundane. But for Seibert, real things—love, discipline, self-confidence—often hinge on one’s ability to appreciate fantasy worlds.
Last year, Seibert and her husband (and Actory co-owner), Paul Kiser, were met with a unique challenge: directing a visually impaired girl in Under the Ghost Lights, a play written by Seibert and performed summer before last. The girl slipped into her role—that of Mary Poppins—with ease, Kiser says. He, however, had a significant obstacle to overcome.
“She came in and did a musical, of all things,” Kiser says. “I tend to be a visual director. I tend to say, ‘I want you to come in over here.’ You have to say, ‘I want you to enter from upstage right.’ “
Under the Ghost Lights is a play about the power of belief. In it, an acting troupe begins to see the ghosts of characters from all the plays that have been performed in their theater. Though resistant at first, the actors slowly accept the presence of these ghosts in their midst. As the story unfolds, the actors also see themselves in new ways, believe in themselves. That a blind girl took on the role of Mary Poppins’ ghost underscores the magic of it all.
Sitting in Dreamers on a weekday midmorning, with sunlight reflecting off the snow outside and brightening the coffeehouse, Kiser and Seibert sip their drinks and talk about their acting company. Kiser’s green eyes are frank and engaging. Seibert, with wispy blonde hair and high cheekbones, resembles a 1960s screen star. She’s dressed simply, in a black turtleneck and red scarf.
“We have a real belief theme going on,” Seibert says.
From its inception in 1995, The Actory has seen its ups and downs—three initial “nomadic” years, as Seibert calls them, three and a half years in a warehouse in Sparks, where Kiser and Seibert often had to struggle to make ends meet, and six “homeless” months this past year. Now, with a new space in south Reno shared with Nevada Performing Arts, Seibert and Kiser are working on making The Actory a diverse, dynamic theater company. They hope to build the acting skills and self-confidence of young people, put on youth and adult plays—classics, contemporary works and original productions—and provide a place where other troupes, such as local comedian group The Laugh Pack, can perform. Working closely with NPA instructor Jeannette Conkey has also allowed The Actory to create its offshoot Musical Theater Youth Company, which has just wrapped up its first production, Jungle Bells.
Now that they’ve settled into the new space, Kiser says that he wants to get the word out that the Actory doesn’t do silly little kids shows—even its youth productions are serious affairs, filled with significant messages for their audiences and life lessons for the young actors.
“A lot of people think acting is about pretending to be someone else, and it’s true that you can gain empathy for other characters,” Kiser says. “But it’s about being you, and those skills translate to anything you do later in life.”
As Seibert observes, if you dive into make-believe, you may come out on the other side with a new understanding of real life and of yourself.