Ethan Everhart is on a mission to foster the “unconscious, unspoken” bond between the audience and the actors in the world of theater.
As the owner and artistic director of Counterweight Theatre Lab in the Springs, Everhart prides himself on his work as a producer of experimental shows in the form of adaptations of classics and popular productions. His main goal is to create an intimate experience for the audience by bringing his shows to life.
“I think when a lot of people hear the term ‘experimental theater’, they think about people in black turtlenecks reading the names in the phone book with gravitas or something,” Everhart said. “That’s part of it, but for me, experimental theater in terms of Counterweight means we’re trying to find ways to make theater seem more alive.”
His love of theater began as an actor, but he has since shifted his talents toward directing, producing and playwriting — and he’s become an advocate for all artists.
“Theater doesn’t make a lot of money and there’s not a lot of money set aside for it,” Everhart said. “People really value art, but they don’t necessarily value artists and the process that goes into creating. I hope that people will think about art everywhere else, like in design. Someone had to make that and get paid to create that. We need to value artists, especially in these difficult times. Our community’s soul is extremely important in these times of struggle.”
Everhart spoke with the Business Journal about his journey into the Colorado Springs theater scene, and the role theater plays in helping audiences better understand iconic playwrights.
Talk about your path to this point in your career.
I was working at an art gallery downtown that had a theater space that I managed. That involved scheduling and booking. I originally went to undergrad for theater because I wanted to be an actor. I dropped out of that college to go to an acting conservatory in New York City. I couldn’t make the money work, so I didn’t do theater for a while because I didn’t want to do the acting lifestyle. I didn’t want to live in New York or L.A. and deal with cattle calls. If you’re doing theater, you have a contract that lasts for maybe a couple of months, if you’re lucky — but then you’re back to square one. There’s not really any consistency or structure in your life. That wasn’t appealing to me.
I got the chance to manage the theater space here in Colorado Springs and it really surprised me to see the presence of theater. I grew up here and I never thought of it as a cultural hub. I started realizing that there is a lot of theater, a lot of talented people, and a desire for different kinds of shows. I originally started Counterweight through this art gallery I was working with. It was an extension of their arts programming. After I did one show, I thought it could be bigger than just part of the art gallery’s brand. I made [Counterweight] its own identity and it all happened through renting that space for the first several shows and then building my own name in the community as someone that people knew was putting on shows. Eventually, people knew me as someone within the Colorado Springs theater scene.
How would you describe the creative scene in the Springs?
Obviously right now, theater is a little challenging with the pandemic. We’re still not in a place where we can gather in groups indoors. Overall, in the last several years Colorado Springs has developed a surprisingly robust arts community. Although, I do think it is sort of centered around the Downtown area. I don’t think there is as much going on in the other parts of town because we are so geographically spread out and isolated. In the arts region Downtown, I think there is a lot of great stuff going on. I think we have a lot of talented and diverse artists here. There are some issues with reaching different demographics and parts of our community that are not necessarily being served right now.
As an actor/producer, do you prefer experimental or classic styles of theater?
Sort of all of the above. Personally, I got started as an actor and I do enjoy acting. I still act when I get the chance. Mostly what I’ve been doing over the last several years is directing, producing, and playwriting.
Our first show was Julius Caesar, but it was performed with only four actors. Everyone learned the entire play and we would trade characters during scenes. It was this experiment of how much could we scale this down and make it extremely intimate. We got great feedback about that show. We ended up doing a couple more Shakespeare shows in these really intimate settings.
A lot of times I think people’s experience of theater is at a high school or a big, popular musical. For me, the reason that I believe theater is uniquely powerful is because it has this ability to have an up close, intimate experience of someone else’s reality. It’s something that is different from film because you’re right there. There is a connection there and an energy that anyone who does theater will tell you about. There is an unconscious, unspoken human connection. I don’t think a lot of people necessarily know about that. The whole point of theater, for me, is about this personal, human connection. That has been our goal with Counterweight. The ‘Lab’ part comes in [when we] try new ways to make theater more personal and relevant.
We have done classics like Shakespeare. We did The Tempest, King Lear, and we’ve also done other classics like an adaptation of Antigone from this poet Anne Carson. We’ve also done several adaptations of classic films. We did an original adaptation of the novel and then film, Solaris. We’ve done a few other things like that. We’ve done some modern plays like Red. Our current play that we’re working on right now is an adaptation of three short stories by a guy that I don’t think anyone probably has heard of. I was speaking with him and he’s really interested in theater and adaptations.
We do a lot of different things with the stories we’re trying to tell. The common through line for me is the idea of, ‘Is this intimacy?’. We’re just trying to make the experience human and real. I’ve had people come up to me after shows and tell me they didn’t know they could understand Shakespeare in that way. To me, it is amazing that we can empower people to understand this amazing part of the English language and English canon. It is the greatest compliment I can receive to hear people say that they can access these texts in a way they have never been able to before.
Do you adhere strictly to gender during casting?
Absolutely not. We have historically done a lot of gender-blind casting. I am a proponent in my shows of choosing the right actor as opposed to gender or ethnicity. It is one thing to be race-blind when casting Shakespeare. Absolutely [you should] — that’s awesome. What I mean is that with something that’s part of the ‘Western canon’ like Shakespeare, we should absolutely be considering actors for roles that may not look like what they’ve been traditionally. We should have Black Hamlets and indigenous Lears and Filipino Lady Ms and any other combination — because there’s no reason not to, and in fact they’ve been historically barred from those types of roles. And those actors should be considered for the great roles of our theatrical literature.
What I meant by ‘it’s one thing [to be race blind]’ is that sometimes people will try to naysay this idea with false equivalencies such as, ‘Oh, does that mean we can do a white Raisin in the Sun?’ or something to that effect, when it should be obvious that there are different standards for that. Plays where the blackness of the characters is relevant (like Othello) or when characters are transgender aren’t the kind of thing I’m talking about.
Black actors should play Black roles and trans actors should play trans roles. What I’m talking about is finding the situations where we can gain a new insight into a character or show by seeing people who are different from what we’ve been trained to expect. Not only do we get insight into our shared human experience, we develop our empathy and we learn something about the thought process of people who experience the world differently than we do, which is the whole point of theater for me.
What has been the most difficult part of this journey for you?
The most difficult part has been the last year. With COVID we canceled half of our run of King Lear because it was happening last March. We wanted to be better safe than sorry. The in-person element is so important to theater and we don’t want to do virtual.
What are your goals for 2021?
My goals are to find ways to perform live outdoors, safely. My goal for 2021 is to have at least several shows to get back on the board in terms of putting on work and producing work.
Do you have family involved in this business?
I do not come from an artistic background. I think it was bizarre to my parents that my goal in life was to do theater. That was very odd for them. They’ve been more or less supportive. My wife did theater throughout college. She’s a very talented actress in her own right. She helps with some logistical stuff and writing my own work. It’s more of a hobby for her.
What do you do in your free time?
I’m kind of an amateur historian. A lot of my free time involves writing and reading plays. Theater is a big part of my hobbies as well.