Both Iron Crow Theatre and Single Carrot Theatre may feel relatively young compared to the city's long-running small theaters such as Vagabond Players (which celebrates its centennial season this year), but both have been around long enough to be shifting leadership this season. Sean Elias, who moved to Baltimore from New York two and a half years ago and quickly rose to the role of Iron Crow's executive director, replaced the company's founder Steven Satta as artistic director and CEO over the summer. Last month, Single Carrot ensemble member Alix Fenhagen—also a New York transplant—assumed founding member Elliott Rauh's post as managing director.
Established in 2009, Iron Crow is the city's only queer theater, though Elias says that until recently, the company had not fully embraced that title.
"I think a lot of our productions aside from this [past] season focused around men and specifically gay men," Elias says. "So we're really trying to change that understanding of Iron Crow as a 'gay' theater to a 'queer' theater to broaden and allow more people to find their stories and their personalities and their passions onstage versus just gay men."
Last season at Iron Crow featured three plays driven by women, "4.48 Psychosis," "The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard," and "The Well of Horniness," a lesbian murder-mystery comedy written, directed, and performed entirely by women.
That expanded focus came after a period of doubt over whether the company would continue, alongside a sense that Baltimore's gay community was receding, as signified by the closing of the Hippo and Jay's On Read.
"But then we saw through the response to 'Bobby Pritchard' and the response to 'The Well of Horniness' that there is a gay community, queer community, lesbian community, transgender community," Elias says. "There are all of these people here that want to be represented and want to be seen and want to feel like they have a cultural hub, if you will."
After living in several major Mid-Atlantic cities, Elias considers Baltimore the queerest city he's ever lived in—both literally and in the figurative sense of the theater community's wide scope and independence.
"I go to theater and I see Everyman Theatre which is doing these traditional classics in this grand way, and I see BROS [Baltimore Rock Opera Society] that are doing very low-budget, just let's-grab-a-beer-and-kick-back-and-have-fun sort of stuff."
It's this more aesthetic concept of "queer"—which Elias defines as "celebrating the renegade and the unorthodox"—that he wants Iron Crow to adapt.
Though the company is not producing any programming this year (aside from the Trans* Voices Workshop Series in collaboration with Cohesion Theatre Company), Elias says they are taking the time to adjust to the new leadership and board of directors, apply for grants, and focus on future goals, including hopes to acquire its own performance space and expand its audience. Elias hopes to elevate Iron Crow to a middle ground between small, DIY or community theaters and large regional companies such as Center Stage and Everyman—a place arguably held only by Single Carrot since its relocation to its larger Remington space nearly two years ago.
But since moving, Single Carrot is still re-evaluating its structure and its role in the local theater community.
"I think that there's this perception that because we moved, we've arrived," says Fenhagen. "We're really still figuring out what this move means for us. It's exciting to have our own space and to be in a new location, and we're going from being a small DIY theater company where everyone does everything all the time, to trying to be a more sustainable theater company, where we can continue to do cutting-edge theater and new theater and risky theater but also build an audience to fill our new space."
Like Iron Crow and many other companies in the region, Single Carrot is considering marginalized voices and audiences in its new programming. Its season opener "Phoebe In Winter," by Jen Silverman, runs through Oct. 18 in conjunction with the Women's Voices Theatre Festival. Next month, the company will also host a four-part conversation series featuring female artists and arts administrators working in Baltimore.
This year, Single Carrot is focusing on what it has been known for since its conception 10 years ago—that is, producing new work by young artists. This season is composed of entirely new work, including one currently untitled production conceived by the ensemble and written by Artistic Director Genevieve de Mahy, to premiere in March.
"I think in some ways with this new season, we're really becoming a place for new and devised work in Baltimore on a level that is professional quality that is still developing young artists," says Fenhagen. "That's a really exciting place to be."
Though the company is revisiting its structure, practice, and values, Single Carrot's model as an ensemble theater remains in place—which is fairly uncommon for larger companies. Though the company often collaborates with outside artists, each of the ensemble members almost always takes on both artistic and administrative roles.
"That has its benefits and its challenges," she says. "Certainly it makes you a more adaptive leader and a more creative thinker; you're hands-on in the creation of what you do."
Iron Crow, on the other hand, is abandoning the ensemble model on which it was founded.
"It was great to start the company," says Elias, "but as we saw the company continue to grow and we were deciding where we wanted the company to be, it kind of got a little tricky because in order to have that growth, you have to have the right people in the right world with the right skill set."
The current staff—which is small and still works on a volunteer basis—will focus on administrative work. The new model, he explains, also allows for more participation from artists and performers from outside of the company's staff. But Fenhagen says the spirit of collaboration is the exactly why Single Carrot remains an ensemble.