Live up to it

The Potentialist Workshop

Pan Pantoja and Aric Shapiro in their new workshop theater on Dickerson Road.

Pan Pantoja and Aric Shapiro in their new workshop theater on Dickerson Road.

Photo By Ashley Hennefer

The Potentialist Workshop, 2275 Dickerson Road, opens to the public on Sept. 12 with the premiere of original show Raisin' Jason. Visit or call 391-0278 for more information.

Some say that most art starts with the self—it begins with an urge to create, to pull something from the mind and turn it into something that can be viewed and shared by others. This is the essence of potentialism, an artistic movement motivated by individual goals in the context of a larger, collaborative vision. And it’s an idea rooted in Reno’s art scene, demonstrative through the continuous rise of new creative spaces.

The Potentialist Workshop, a theater and performance art space, is the newest and perhaps most literal execution of the bridge between the individual and collective. The 2,000 square foot workshop and theater space is the latest project on Dickerson Road, an area of town referred to as West Dick (“Space: the final frontier,” Jan. 17).

The workshop location was in rough shape before founders and artists Aric Shapiro and Pan Pantoja set up shop in early August and cleaned, painted and made extensive repairs. They paid out of pocket for all of the renovations “by the art we make,” Pantoja says.

“There’s a movement happening here, and it’s not just an insular thing,” he says. “One day all of the empty buildings will be filled with artists. It’s interesting, and I mean tough, but also more sustainable, in the fact that we’re not at the whim of investors.”

After scouting out locations in midtown and downtown, they settled on the West Dick where their other collaborative art space, Reno Art Works, is also located. Both Pantoja and Shapiro are involved in several other projects throughout the city.

“[West Dick] is a great destination,” Pantoja says. “Give it five years. We’re still gentrifying it but so much has changed already.”

The workshop can seat an audience of 45 people, using seats recycled from the basement of the Lear Theater. The stages can be moved around depending on the show. All productions are never-before-performed works, says Shapiro, with a preference for “brand-spankin’ new” creations.

“That’s partly why it’s called a workshop rather than just ’theater,’” he says. “We wanted to give all of these creatives an outlet to show their work, workshop their concepts and make it real. … It really helps when you can do it on your own and don’t have to wait for a golden parachute. It’s great when a person realizes, ’I can do this, and that’s amazing.’ It’s worth it, pursuing that endeavor.”

In his own work, Pantoja says he likes to involve as many locals as possible. “I believe there are great artists in this city and that should be celebrated.”

Several groups use the space, including Empire Comedy, a local improv company. Shapiro says they’re still looking for a few more people who want to be regularly involved, and they’re always accepting new scripts.

The performances planned for the space tend to be outside of the box. Much of it is considered performance art, and a mix of “dance, song, painting, art,” says Shapiro. Pantoja places an emphasis on “experimental.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily call what we do here ’theater,’” he says. “We’re inventing a new way of doing that here. The potentialist movement is about blurring the lines of various media, merged into one expression. … Mastery of something is a lifetime pursuit. Most artists do more than one thing. It’s unnatural to pinpoint just one thing—”

“—you might pick up a paintbrush and end up with a poem,” says Shapiro, jumping in.

“Today, to be an artist, you have to be able to do it all,” Pantoja says. “You have to just be art. That’s the starting point.”