A trio of theatrical pros have elevated local company in a resourceful way.
The next time you stand and cheer following a StudioTenn-produced show, be sure to save some applause for those off stage. While the talented actors may vary with each production, it’s the talent behind the scenes and in the front office that has elevated this small, Franklin-based company into a regional powerhouse.
This can be attributed in large part to a core trio of Nashville natives that has been with the company from the very beginning: creative director Matt Logan, managing director Jake Speck and technical director Mitch White. The hallmarks of a StudioTenn production – expertly cast roles, stunning sets and meticulously tailored original costumes – is the result of their collaboration.
That it’s all executed with limited resources and repurposed materials makes the non-profit company’s onstage results even more remarkable.
“What we’re able to pull off with the money we have is insane,” says Speck. “We’re way ahead of similar companies in sales but way behind in contributions. It’s not normal by national standards.”
Says Logan, “We work with tight budgets and timelines. I always say you need money or time, one or the other. We have neither. So it’s always a riddle as to how we’ll get things done.”
Logan and Speck founded the company in 2009. Speck was wrapping-up a phase of his career that saw him performing on Broadway and doing lots of regional theater, television and touring. Logan is a multi-faceted artist known for his creative thinking and his skills as a designer, director, illustrator and performer. But above all, he’s a storyteller.
“To me, what goes on the stage is very personal and the audience is everything to me,” says Logan. “So as a director you want everything to ring true. The challenge is whether you want to go ‘poetic’ or ‘realistic.’ Do you want to design the character’s spirit or reality? But whatever you do, it needs to look good and be that the entire show.”
Bringing that vision to life is where White enters the picture. With the skills of a handyman, the knowledge of an engineer and the passion of an artist, he builds sets that are both riveting and rock solid.
“I got my start by building houses with my brother,” says White. “So my sets are more sound structurally than they need to be. There’s never a problem with someone being on it. It will exceed standards.”
According to White, that’s not a bragging point; it’s an element of good theater. “If an actor slams a door on stage and the entire set shakes, it takes the audience’s attention away from the actor. When the set becomes the star, either for a good reason or bad, we’ve missed the mark.”
Once Logan and Speck have settled on a production, the design process begins with Logan explaining his creative vision. He’ll go to Pinterest to find images and sketch drawings on his computer, then present those to White.
“I come up with crazy concepts,” says Logan. “I put together a composition that is loosely in scale to the stage and Mitch builds upon that. I’m in awe of his craftsmanship.”
“Matt sees things that are unique and pragmatic at the same time, but he’s not afraid to dream,” says White. “I told him early on, don’t give me what you think is easily done; tell me what you want. That’s made him more imaginative and his designs are more demanding.”
All the while Speck is on the administrative end, dotting Is and crossing Ts. But he still appears on stage occasionally and will be in the cast for StudioTenn’s presentation of Monty Python’s Spamalot, May 4-21 at Jamison Theater in The Factory at Franklin.
“I still get to create and be artistic,” says Speck. “I like to say I have a good right-and-left-brain combination. StudioTenn has given me the opportunity to use both. This is the most difficult think I have done, but it’s the most rewarding, too.”