An interview with Nathan Allen, artistic director of The House Theatre of Chicago

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On Thursday night, the SMU theatre department debuted its latest production, “The Sparrow.” However, this isn’t SMU’s first association with the show. Back in 2007, “The Sparrow” premiered at The House Theatre of Chicago, which was partially started by SMU alum Nathan Allen, the theatre’s artistic director.

Allen is working on an epic new production called “The Hammer Trinity,” which has a nine-hour running time (nine, hours people). “The Hammer Trinity” combines three shows, “Part One: The Iron Stage King,” “Part Two: The Crownless King,” and the brand new “Part 3: The Excelsior King,” into one groundbreaking performance. “The Hammer Trinity” follows the show’s protagonist, Casper, as he fights for the Crown and is forced to make difficult decisions along the way. Check out this interview with Nathan Allen to hear his advice for SMU students and his thoughts on the biggest undertaking of his career.

The DC: Tell me a little bit about your time at SMU and how that led you to start The House Theatre.

Allen: “I’m a class of 2000, and there is a bunch of us here at The House that went to SMU. That’s where we met. I was a Hunt Scholar, and the scholarship paid for me to go abroad for a year, so I got to go the British American Drama Academy in London and met other American students who were like-minded in their interests. After I received the relatively traditional training I did at SMU and seeing all kinds of crazy, physical European clowns, puppets, and spectacular shows going on in Europe, I blended those two influences things together, which brought about this energy around starting a company with a bunch of us, so we came out to Chicago, which is the best place to do such a thing. For 14 years now, we’ve been sort of masters of our own destiny and making all new work with this blend of influences. I also grew up on Jim Henson, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, so we also wear our pop culture influences proudly.”

The DC: How has it been working on this project for six years?

Allen: “It’s pretty awesome. I certainly could not have done this before now just as a matter of my own growth as a person and an artist reaching a level of certain capacity and ability. When I try to describe how it feels, it feels like working at a very high level of challenge. It feels like the work is just out of reach, which causes you to stretch just a little bit further to figure out how you are going to pull it together, produce, write, create, or craft the story. It feels like a marathon actually making it. People refer to these kinds of durational theatre experiences as marathons. But making one is certainly one too. It’s a test of your endurance, stamina, and creative capacity. To stay productive and creative across that kind of time and space is really satisfying. It feels really good. And it feels really hard. This company is relatively rare and incredible.”

The DC: Do you think “The Hammer Trinity” will extend to other cities?

Allen: “Yes, it is going into other cities. It is going to Miami next year at least, and we are in conversations with other theatres around the country. Currently, it is a project of this company, so I have a hard time imagining another company of artists making it at least anytime soon. I mean, “The Sparrow” is going on right now at SMU, so there are shows that leave us and are produced by other people, but initially, they’re an expression of this body of artists.”

The DC: Now, your work has turned into this incredible achievement, but did you ever think this was too big of a feat to pursue?

Allen: “I think that level of challenge is the inspiring part of the project and reason enough for doing it. If you are a runner and are running a marathon, there is no other reason to do it except to prove that you can better yourself. I really think that the work of this company and my attention in it, makes me a better person and artist and a more active advocate and servant of my community in Chicago. To be a citizen of the world through the art we make is a huge ambition, and its certainly worth the hustle and focus of trying to achieve that type of participation in the world.”

The DC: What advice would you give students studying and practicing theatre here at SMU?

Allen: “Go start your own companies. Go make your own work. The idea that you are going to ‘make it’ and become famous is entirely in your own control if you are making your own work. Also, follow the relationships and friends you make in this industry. Don’t follow the money. Don’t follow the roles. You follow the people that you like working with. You aren’t going to be a theatre artist without constantly working with many other people. You have to find the people you want to spend your life with.”

Don’t miss a chance to view some of Allen’s work and see “The Sparrow” at Greer Garson’s Theatre, which ends its run Sunday. Visit smu.edu/meadows for tickets.

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