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2016-2017 Season

Quantum Theatre founder says, ‘Hear your voice’

By May 26, 2016August 14th, 2023No Comments

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Karla Boos came from the West Coast armed with an unstoppable drive and the derring-do to challenge the conventions of theater.

She would blush to see that written down, diverting credit to the many collaborators and supporters who have helped her along the way to 25 years as artistic director and founder of Quantum Theatre, a company performing innovative works — sometimes from the ground up — in unconventional spaces throughout the city.

The native of West Virginia had decided to settle in Pittsburgh after receiving a broad education in the possibilities of theater at the California Institute of the Arts. She came here as an actress but carried the drive to do her own projects in her own way.

Thoughts of financing the company that Quantum Theatre has become were a long way away in 1990, when she began with a single project, “Pedro Paramo,” based on the short novel by Mexican author Juan Rulfo and spurred by Ms. Boos’ work with Latin American artists in California.

Early supporters included Janet Sarbaugh of the Heinz Endowments; Charlie Humphrey, past chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance; and Susan Harris “Slu” Smith, professor emerita at the University of Pittsburgh.

Another confirmation that this is what she was meant to do was from the late August Wilson, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who was spending time in his hometown when she was getting started here.

“I came in ’89, and the one thing I knew to do was to see if I can talk to August Wilson, and I went to the Crawford Grill and found him on the first try,” she recalled. “He was there with all his guys, and I said, ‘I’d like to talk to you. I want to start a theater company. I have a vision.’

“And he made all his guys go away, and he sat and mind-melded with me for hours. We had this beautiful conversation that is an inciting incident for me. He helped give me the confidence, for sure. Can you believe that?”

When she speaks to young people who come to her now, just as she approached Mr. Wilson back in the day, her words reflect that conversation.

“I say, ‘Hear your voice,’ because, I don’t know if those are the words he used, but he could tell I had a voice — from my Cal Arts experience, from working with Latin American artists and all these different artists of different media. That was new back then, and he validated hearing your own voice to me.”

Choosing the nonprofit model

Back then, Ms. Boos was looking to produce individual projects as they came up. In 1999, she left her job as director of new play development at City Theatre to make Quantum a full-time career.

Today, 25 years later, her company presents four annual productions and the Q Ball, among other events throughout the year. Last year, Quantum presented Ms. Boos’ world premiere Baroque opera based on Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” in collaboration with Chatham Baroque and Attack Theatre.

Quantum also has performed her own script based on the novel and film “The End of the Affair” at the former Emma Kaufmann Clinic in Polish Hill and the intricate, immersive “Tamara” at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside. In 2007, the Garden Theater — the former X-rated movie theater on the North Side — was Quantum’s setting for “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.”

What began as a $5,000 grant for a single production has grown to a budget of $1 million in a theater company that is about to grow to six full-time employees “and the stage manager is almost a seventh with contracts that add up,” Ms. Boos said.

“It has been slow, steady growth over 25 years. It’s not meant to be something giant. It’s meant to be a platform for work. People would be shocked at how little we pay for everything except the artistry,” Ms. Boos said.

Creating artistry is Ms. Boos’ business, but creating a business model that has allowed Quantum to survive and thrive was a learning curve.

“I credit other people for that piece of it,” she said. “I did do a smart thing early on. I talked with people who became a board of directors who helped me decide that the nonprofit model was right, that this body that represents the community has ownership of it.

“Those were the people who took me by the shoulders and said, ‘You have to quit your day job at City Theatre. We will make sure that you have a living.’ That’s, of course, many years ago …”

To honor the legacy of one longtime supporter, Quantum this season introduced The Gerri Kay New Voices Program, which allows the company to support and mentor developing artists. The first recipients were the members of the Hatch Arts Collective — director Adil Mansoor, writer Paul Kruse — who presented the avant-garde play “Chickens in the Yard.”

Read the full story here.

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