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The Power of the Open Stage: A Tribute to Edward Payson Call

A split graphic with the cover image of "Theatre Stories" by Edward Payson Call on the left and a black and white image of Edward making a pre-show speech at the Wolf Theatre.

Over the Christmas holidays, I read a book called Theatre Stories by Edward Payson Call.  This wonderful telling of his early life and the beginning of the regional theatre movement was a real trip down memory lane for me. 

For those who don’t know, Ed (as I would come to know him) was a founding member of the Guthrie Theatre. He rose through the ranks, starting in Stage Management and ending as a member of the Artistic leadership team for his last two years in Minneapolis.

I first met Ed in the late 70's. He was directing a production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at PCPA Theatrefest, and I got to be involved with it. This was one of my first productions at PCPA, and being around all those great designers and directors just fed my enthusiasm for the theatre. I spent an entire day just walking the set so that Ed and the lighting designer could cue the show. Ed loved the tech process. Some would think he would be happy just doing tech rehearsal!

Ariel photo of the PCPA Theaterfest amphitheater at night in Solvang, California.
PCPA Theaterfest - Solvang, California

In the book, Ed tells some wonderful stories about the power of the “open stage” and how life-giving it could be. Looking back over my career now with my own firm at TheatreDNA, I could not agree more. I have spent many of my formative theatre years working on these types of stages, from PCPA to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis to the Denver Center Theatre for the Performing Arts. I love the triangular energy that is transferred when the audience connects to the artists, the artists back to the audience, and then when patrons connect to each other through their shared experiences. 

An interior photo of the Wolf Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The auditorium is in a fanout configuration with red seats and a baby grand piano sitting along on a thrust stage.
The Wolf Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Ed talked about this communal connection in the book, and his words reminded me why I believe so strongly in the act of creating community within the theatre and the importance of theatre’s action within the community. The Regional Theatre movement was really about art that was rooted in a sense of place, whether that be a one-stoplight rural town, a bustling city, or the burbs. It’s why the Guthrie ended up in Minneapolis. It’s why the American Conservatory Theater is in San Francisco. They each became the cultural avatars for their respective communities.

An interior photograph of the American Conservatory Theater, which has an ornate Vaudeville design style. The viewport is from the mezzanine balcony and is overlooking the stage with a seated dinner event set up on it.
American Conservatory Theater

If you get a chance, please take a read. As a second-generation regional theatre kid, I really appreciated reading about how it all started. And to no surprise, they were all connected to Edward Payson Call.


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