Conversations about Creativity
All Around Theatre Artist
Theatre is the Marriage of Every Artform
August 22, 2017
Technical Director & Production Manager – Chad Sweet – worked professionally as an actor, director, and designer in theaters across the country and in Mexico for a decade before moving to Reno in 2004. After taking a hiatus to start a business and paint full time, he returned to theater in 2010 first acting then making the leap to Producing Artistic Director of Good Luck Macbeth for three years until landing at RLT. Some highlights of his career include FOLLIES at Paper Mill Playhouse (1998) working with Stephen Sondheim, Ann Miller, Jerry Mitchell, Donna McKechnie, and Tony Roberts among others; touring the U.S. with educational theater shows for over two years; and spending many beautiful summers at Cortland Repertory Theatre, The New London Barn Playhouse, and The New Harmony Playhouse. He currently serves on the Marketing Committee for the Reno Arts and Culture Commission.
Ellen: You have been involved for many years Chad, in diverse forms of theatre – designing, lighting, etc. Would you tell me something about your theatrical background and how it prepared you for your current role at the Reno Little Theater?
Chad: I’m currently the Production Manager, Technical Director, Resident Designer, and Co-Artistic Director at Reno Little Theater. I got into professional theatre right out of college and spent about nine years doing every job at every size company in the US and Mexico. Then I quit to manage a friend’s business (better money/more stable) and eventually ran my own business as a designer and fine art painter.
Ellen: Did you find this experience outside of theatre beneficial in any way?
Chad: Honestly, what prepared me the most for where I am now is the business experience and leaving theatre for six years. The business experience helped me deal with the not-so-sexy part of show business. The time off gave me perspective on what I wanted to do with my life.
Ellen: And perspective too I would think for how you see the role of Reno Little Theater. What is your vision for it?
Chad: This eighty-three year-old company has, in the last five years, gone through a very recent and extraordinary revision. There are people who put RLT on a path to something I’m not sure they even thought possible when they opened our new theater in 2011. We have an opportunity to become a regionally acclaimed producer, a theatrical standard-bearer, and community creative stronghold for people of all ages, local and tourist, longtime resident or new transplant.
Ellen: A center for individual and collaborative creativity. So not only is this theater important for Reno, but it has a relevance to the wider community as well?
Chad: Theatre has been around probably as long as the cave paintings. Despite the death-knell that has tolled for the artform many times, it still continues because it will always be relevant for everyone. It gives life to concepts and feelings and thoughts that sometimes, can be hard to wrap our brains and hearts around. It gives us space to laugh and cry and commiserate in a communal setting. It gives voice to those who have none or little. It gives opportunity to creatives who need to express. And theatre is the marriage of every artform – writing, visual design, song, dance, painting, sculpture, oratory. For a theatre company to be relevant, all it need do is listen to its community, listen to humanity, and give its audience what it wants.
Ellen: Why did theater beckon to you Chad, when there were so many other artistic endeavors in which you had been engaged and so many more creative areas you have the capacity to do? Why did theatre become your huge focus?
Chad: I did my first show at the age of twelve and it unlocked for me, a way to delve into deeper parts of my humaness than I thought I was able to reach. I knew the depths were there. I’d seen other people have them, but I wasn’t sure how to access them myself. Theatre gave me that pathway.
Ellen: So the history or genesis of theatrical production in your life began at age twelve and then your acting continued?
Chad: I started as an actor as I think most people do. But I realized when I got my first professional job at Cortland Repertory Theatre in Upstate New York that if I wanted to work all the time in theatre, I might want to have some other skills. Over the next few years, I learned to do everything I could – set design, props building, tech direction, lights, costume design. For nine years, the only time I took a break from working in theatre is when I needed a break, not because I didn’t have a job.
Ellen: When did you start working in Reno?
Chad: I happened to land here twelve years ago because my best friend was here. He was starting a business and asked me to help. I quickly realized he needed A LOT of help. So I quit theater and general managed the business. And it became very successful by a lot of measures. But I still felt a little lacking. During those five years, I didn’t do any theater in Reno because I was (am) a snob. I had been used to a certain quality of work that I wasn’t seeing anywhere in the local scene. I was surprised Reno didn’t have a professional theatre company. Where I’m from in New York, they are everywhere. So when I decided to get back into theatre, I went back East. Then when I returned, I went to the West Coast to find theatre work but eventually, it was costing more money than I wanted to spend traveling as my home was still in Reno. And that’s when I decided to get involved here in Reno.
Ellen: Would you say that you now have a new perspective about work in Reno?
Chad: Ellen – a friend of mine once asked me in reference to something else: “If you don’t like something, instead of looking for what you like someplace else, try working on what’s in front of you.” Now I love it here. I only see possibilities instead of obstacles.
Ellen: Do you now see Reno as an Art City and if so, why?
Chad: It SOOOOO much is an Arts City. We are on a journey that is exciting and tangible. People, businesses, and politicians now believe in the power and necessity of the arts.
Ellen: Are you hoping in some way, to change the perceptions about Reno as a city through the creativity and diversity of your theatrical productions?
Chad: Certainly. My own perceptions and experiences have changed. We’ve had Tony-winning and nominated playwrights visit us who are dumbstruck at what we are doing. Lenny Leibowitz, a drama-desk nominated director has worked here for 2 summers because he is wowed by what we are doing and the direction we are going. I think in the larger picture though, I want our own community to see that we fit in the cultural and economic ecosystem alongside every other organization that’s turned heads, like the Reno Phil, the Nevada Museum of Art, Artown, and Burning Man.
Ellen: So despite not being born in Reno, it is now home to you?
Chad: Out of everyone I know after twelve years of living here, maybe ten were born here. No one is born here; we just evolve here.
Ellen: Reno – a city where you evolve! I like that concept! Could you tell us something about your education and how it led you to the arts – if in fact, it did.
Chad: I went to a small, private, liberal arts college in Upstate New York, Elmira College, to study painting and drawing. And I did that only because I didn’t think I was a good enough actor to study theatre in college. Painting was my fallback if my career in theatre didn’t work out. Not the smartest of plans…
Ellen: Perhaps not the smartest of plans but certainly an example of positive thinking. Now something about your family influences: were any members of your family involved in the arts?
Chad: Not in a large way. My dad was always peripherally into illustration. Then his hobby was model building, mostly recreating war scenes with tiny plastic men. But everything with regard to model building is super detailed. My Dad has a lot more patience than I do to accomplish a task. My mother had done some theater in college. But neither were what anyone would classify as “artsy”.
Ellen: Your background in the arts – painting, drawing etc – must be something from which you continue to draw stimulation. Also, your arts background helped establish further, your own intrinsic sensibilities – a creative reservoir from which, when needed, you can summon valuable experiences for your work today. Most creative people are more than one designation and the various aspects of their experiences and proclivities, feed what they do creatively. So how does all that you did previously, nourish and influence all you do today?
Chad: Painting and drawing always came very naturally to me. And so it seemed like a good thing to study, though I quickly tired of it. I don’t do much of it outside the stage any more. I see it as a tool to accomplish what I need onstage. Frankly, that goes for everything. Everything I do or have done is another tool for me to use in a stage design or a performance or what-have-you.
Ellen: After the headiness of a creative conception, the challenges of finding the funding then set in. Reality comes knocking at your door and often not very gently.
Chad: Funding is a funny thing. As a country, we’re terrible at it, especially in comparison. Individuals though, can be very, very kind. Some companies too, can be. But we’re starting to come to terms with the reduction of arts education in public schools. How does that affect arts funding, one might ask? Well, if I didn’t have real, sustained access to arts education as a child, why would I care about it as an adult whose attitude would likely be, “I don’t consume the arts, I don’t patronize the arts, my company doesn’t sponsor the arts, and the city government I sit on doesn’t grant money to the arts.”
Ellen: A shortsighted way of viewing the world. A society without the arts is barren – devoid of depth and in many ways, additional nuanced thinking. Without artistic expression, how lacking we would be as individuals and members of society!
Chad: Which is all very funny, because many studies and personal experiences show that a strong arts community is the best path to a booming economy and revitalization. That’s why there is such a thing as gentrification.
Ellen: Does Reno as a whole, support the arts?
Chad: Reno, specifically, gives a good deal (percentage-wise) of money to the arts compared to other cities of similar size. But individuals and corporations don’t follow traditional behaviors when it comes to making sponsorship of the arts a habit.
Ellen: In closing, a theatrical production requires not only the initial and ongoing vision and the necessary funding, but also top-level performances. How do you Chad, encourage performances by the actors and how do you reinforce the strengths of what they do?
Chad: All you can do as a director is use the clay given to you. An actor has something or they don’t, they can access it or they can’t. All I can do is push and pull with them to get to the truth of the performance that has to ultimately be the truth in them.
Reno Little Theater
147 E. Pueblo St.
Reno, NV 89502