This past weekend was the season finale of Saturday Night Live. I’m still a fanboy, riding through many peaks and valleys over the years, aware that it’s not always (!) brilliant. Ernie once said he found it “cute” that I still cared about SNL. Anyway, three cast members (that we know of) have ended their tenures. And we were treated to one last slurred monologue by Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle. (The best line of the night was, while making fun of “kids these days” he asked, “Is this pomegranate juice gender fluid?”) It’s end-of-eras like this that push me into my sentimental headspace but also get my excited for what’s next.
As our membership and others in the TYA family know, my husband Ernie Nolan has been appointed the new Executive Artistic Director of Nashville Children’s Theatre. I’m beyond proud of him! Such an achievement in a TYA journey that began back in 2004 in his final term of grad school at DePaul when he took on an internship at the Coterie. My TYA journey began here as well as I got to know our new Kansas City friends. In 2008, Ernie and I travelled together to the ASSITEJ World Congress in Adelaide, Australia, where I got to know American and International TYA folks alike. By the 2011 Congress in Copenhagen/Malmo, I was one of the family. And by Warsaw (and Birmingham), I was representing TYA/USA as your Executive Director after taking the reins from my predecessor Chris Peak in 2013. As I write, Ernie is knocking them dead at the Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, as your Official Representative to ASSITEJ.
When Ernie was like, “So, Nashville?” I was like, “Sure! Why not? Nashville could be cool.” But moving to Nashville also meant leaving Chicago. Where I moved to from the Detroit area in 1998, where Ernie and I met in 2001, and where we left in 2006 for a chapter in South Bend, Indiana (close enough to Chicago to keep our dentist) before returning. Where I grew as an artist and a person. Where I finally finished grad school myself. Where I could stare into the expanse of Lake Michigan to calm whatever nipped at my psyche. I’m ecstatic that so many of you were able to experience at least a little of this great city at One Theatre World in 2015. I took with us one of the Chicago flags we used to lead the parades down Chicago streets (though we’re not sure what to do with it yet.)
I was also faced with the decision about staying your Executive Director, as the office, while based in Chicago for about a decade, has traditionally roamed this fine land of ours. In the end, I thought it best for both the organization and myself to hand over the reins to someone else. I have been working through the transition with my successor, the most excellent Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, for several weeks now. And I’m confident that his dedication and energy will take Theatre for Young Audiences/USA into a bright new era.
I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for being a part of my TYA/USA run. To all the Board members I’ve worked with to make our programs, events, publications, and budgets shine. I’ve learned so much from you! To all the members past and present I’ve gotten to know over the years and have been able to see at One Theatre World, New Visions/New Voices, AATE, SETC, and of course the international gatherings. To all the Young Playwrights whose work I’ve been able to experience working on the anthologies: Keep telling your stories! To our TYA Today staff and contributors past and present for crafting such fine issues each spring and fall. A special shout out to Larry Kozial at Makeworks, TYA Today-YPC anthology-OTW & TYA Today Online logo-Marquee site designer extraordinaire who has been an indispensable part of the team! To everyone I’ve worked with over these last almost four years. I’d also like to thank those who paved the way in the office before me: Chris Peak, Caitlin Hansen, Steve Bianchi, Michelle Kozlak, and many others.
I’m still figuring out what’s next, but I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, there are still projects around the house to finish. And I’ll always be “TYA adjacent.” Nashville is a cool place, even if biking these hilly Tennessee roads may kill this Midwest boy; and the jury’s still out as to whether or not the Cumberland River can ever replace Lake Michigan. I am excited about all the new opportunities, artistic and otherwise, that are in front of me as I kick off my own new season. You can keep up with me at my writerly website, MichaelVanKerckhove.com. Especially after I give it a much needed makeover—sorry Chicago skyline graphic, it’s time to go.