Community spirit

Julie Robertson aims to keep Gothic North a vital part of local theater

Gothic North Theater opens its latest play next week during a period when most theater houses are closed for the holidays or a much-needed winter break. But for executive director Julie Robertson, the job doesn’t end when the stage goes dark.

“When you are the executive director—I tease people that that means I get to do whatever nobody else wants to do,” she said. “I direct. I costume. I build sets. I work on publicity. I sell tickets. I talk to the customers who are unhappy about where they’re sitting. I make sure there’s toilet paper in the bathroom. Until you have a theater, you never realize all the mundane details that go into actually operating a facility.”

Still, she said, the best part about the job is the satisfaction of watching a play mature.

“It’s almost like wine-making … watching everything blend and come together and create something that’s like, but unlike, where it started from,” she said. “That probably is my favorite part of actually watching the run of the show.”

Robertson’s involvement with the group began 9 1/2 years ago. She was a student of Truckee Meadows Community College theater professor Carolyn Wray, and was encouraged by Wray to audition for plays in the area. She heard about Gothic North through a friend, Gary Helmers, who’s now the group’s technical director. She started doing backstage technical work and worked her way up into acting and eventually into directing. Robertson explained that when she gets interested in something, she tends to want to get involved in every aspect of it. It was this dedicated approach that helped get her the job as executive director.

Four years ago, Gothic North co-founder David Zybert decided to step down as executive director and chose Robertson to take over the company. During her tenure, the group landed its own permanent theater after years of renting spaces around town.

“I realized when I handed the group over to Julie that I was adding the final step … to the equation and that the group was finally going to have somebody leading it who was not only a creative genius but had a great business sense as well, which is the only thing I didn’t have,” he said.

Zybert continues to act and direct plays for Gothic North as well as handle its publicity and its Web site.

Gothic North’s name, which dates back to a previous group that Zybert co-founded in 1984 in Southern California called Gothic Productions, may mistakenly give the impression that it produces dark, gothic plays. Robertson said the company tries to offer a little bit of everything, from traditional plays to original works.

Robertson said that what makes 10-year-old Gothic North special is its accessibility to the public. Auditioners don’t necessarily have to have acting experience. If the director thinks you fit the role, she said, you’ll be cast in the part. It’s important to have that sense of accessibility, she said.

“Any time you can get up and do a performance … you’ve gained something, and that’s the heart and soul of community theater. It’s giving people the chance to express themselves through performance and to … have an outlet for that urge, that creativity, in a way that will be beneficial to that community and that individual.”

Gothic North will hold open auditions for the drama Bus Stop in January, for the comedy Key Exchange in February, and for the drama Other People’s Money and the musical revue Six Women With Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know in April.