We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Kalin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, how does you business help the community or world?
Out Front Theatre Company is committed to telling LGBTQIA+ stories. We offers a unique opportunity to educate and entertain local audiences while also providing a safe space for queer artists. Atlanta is home to the largest self identifying queer community in the southeast, and one of the largest in the country overall. Our community, both Atlanta at large and the LGBTQIA+ population, are beautifully diverse and complex. As such, our story telling is a chance to educate and defy stereotypes for our audiences. Whether it be the staging of a work that explores the intersection of sexuality and ethnicity or educating audiences to the history of the queer community, we work to make sure audiences deepen their understanding of queer people and our experiences. Even beyond our season programming, we offer many ways of educating the community that we interact with. This includes our Resources, Important Dates, and Terms to know section of our website, our social media campaign that celebrates days of awareness for members of the queer community, and our many flags and corresponding explanation page displayed in our lobby space. Though these alone cannot defeat homophobia, we find our programming helps to combat it by facilitating education and empathy while providing a safe place for patrons and artists to exist. We offer the community a general atmosphere in which same sex love is not taboo, be it in open discussion or in displays of affection. Out Front also strives to match artistic programming with civic engagement; we see this most successfully done when partnering with other organizations, particularly those who share similar missions and serve similar patron demographics. This includes partnerships with local Non Profits like the Counter Narrative Project, Atlanta Pride, AID Atlanta, and Touching Up Our Roots (to name a few). These partnerships not only deepen the meaning of our programming, but it allows us the chance to facilitate guided conversations within our community to be better allies to each other too. We also coordinate programming material with actionable community engagement, as seen in our post show voter registration drive that took place in the lobby every evening following our production of Bryna Turner’s Bull in a China Shop.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m the Associate Artistic Director for Out Front Theatre Company, Atlanta’s LGBTQIA+ theatre. It’s a fancy title, but it mostly means that I lead casting for our productions, consult with the Artistic Director on programming, facilitate new work, and get involved with other odds and ends like development and fundraising. We’re a small organization and we all wear a lot of hats. Out Front is unique because of our laser focused mission. Every theatre is guided by mission statement but the programming doesn’t always reflect that. We are committed to telling stories by, for, and about our community. Though others may include a queer work on occasion, we’re the only theatre in town and one of the very few in the entire southeast, whose entire mission is based solely on the LGBTQIA+ community. I got involved with the organization toward the end of our inaugural year as I was concluding an internship at Actor’s Express. It sort of felt like kismet. I’d worked to cultivate an artistic identity that was focused on queer work and simultaneously Out Front was born. I owe a lot to Co Founder Jacob Demlow for bringing me into the fold and Paul, our Artistic Director, for his willingness to bring me on board. It hasn’t always been easy. Building a nonprofit is hard. Building a theatre company is hard. The field is notoriously underfunded, in our state especially, and the resources that are available are competitive. As a consequence, it can feel impossible to survive as a young company. Atlanta has some great theatre, but most of our regional houses have been around for at least 20 or 30 years and audiences have come to expect that level of work across the board. Challenging as that expectation has been on a tight budget, it’s taught us a lot. We’ve learned you have to spend the money on certain things because it’s what the audience expects, it’s what they’ve paid for but we’ve also been reminded that the power of storytelling is of the utmost importance. Our productions aren’t the most expensive in the city but they’ve got powerful storytelling that resonates with our audiences. Whether its a tear jerker or just a ridiculous campy mess, we feel the connection to our patrons. I think that’s what’s propelled us through our rockiest moments. And so I’d just like to let the world know that we are still here! COVID has forced us all to reexamine what we do and how we do it, but we’re learning and adapting and we’ve got a new season lined up! You can check out our website for more information.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Because COVID, I’ve been spending a lot more time outdoors (haven’t we all?) and damn our city has some real natural beauty to explore. I’d have take them down the Freedom Trail and I love just walking through Cabbagetown and Grant Park just to look at all of old houses. There are some great day hikes on the East Palisades Trail, Sweetwater Creek State Park, and the Dolls Head Trail too. Oh, and we’d definitely go to the Botanical Gardens and see some movies at Starlight Drive In. For some socially distanced indoor fun, we’d check out the High Museum and Atlanta Contemporary. We’d have get some take out from Triple Jays Pizza, DAS BBQ, Bar Mercado, and brunch from Homegrown. And if we weren’t being ravaged by a pandemic, we’d have to go see some local theatre but for now we’d check out all their virtual offerings (of which there will be plenty!) and watch them while we eat all that take out.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d love to give a shoutout to Iona & Jimmy Holder, Eric Griffis, Freddie Ashley, Paul Conroy, and Ibi Owolabi for helping me arrive where I am artistically. They’ve taught me, encouraged me, heard me, and pushed me to be a better artist and person. I love them all dearly and wouldn’t be who I am without them. And shout to my family too for being so endlessly supportive.
Photo Credit to Saturn Blu Productions and Diane Haymes Photography.