5 Questions with Kristen van Ginhoven

Kristen van Ginhoven, Founder and Artistic Director of WAM Theatre, is stepping down after 13 years of running this innovative organization, which donates a portion of its profits to local charitable organizations with every show it produces. WAM led a peripatetic life, producing on stages throughout the Capital Region and the Berkshires.

Kristen van Ginhoven

How fitting that Kristen’s last directing project with WAM is Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me,” with Kim Stauffer playing Heidi, which is opening theREP’s season running 9/15–10/8. WAM co-produced it earlier this summer with Berkshire Theatre Group, starring Kate Baldwin, at their Unicorn Theatre. The play is about teenage Heidi earning tuition money by competing in Constitutional debates at VFWs across the Northwest and how the Constitution has impacted her and her family’s lives. It is certainly a play that embodies WAM’s motto of “Where Arts and Activism Meet.”

PW: So, here you are directing your second production this summer of “What the Constitution Means To Me” after garnering rave reviews at Berkshire Theatre Group, ending your decade-long run with WAM with WAM veteran Kim Stauffer at theREP mounting a new production…how’s this victory lap going?

KvG: Victory Lap! I love that! I’m going to start using that. It’s going well. I feel so blessed to be having these two artistic experiences in my last year as WAM’s Producing Artistic Director. To have the opportunity to work on this play in the spring with Kate Baldwin and now with Kim Stauffer is a complete dream. It truly feels like this play is the perfect culmination of my artistic and activist time at the helm of WAM. 

PW: What about “What the Constitution Means To Me” attracted you the strongest?

KvG: Honestly, everything in my career has led to me directing this play at this time. I used to have a business card that said, “Kristen van Ginhoven, human being.” I thrive on theater experiences that feel alive. I believe in art as a powerful tool for social justice. I see theater as a political force. I have learned, as Heidi says in the play, that who we are now may not be who we will become. I trust the future is up to us and our engagement as citizens. I am convinced we all have the ability to participate in the national dialogue in healthy and productive ways. I recognize the future is better for being diverse, inclusive, and led by people like Isabel and Izzy, our extraordinary debaters.

In this play, the simple, generous act of storytelling creates a world of curiosity and openness, where debate is a laboratory for activism where a deeply personal story sets its sights on both necessary ancestral healing and matters of civic importance.

All of that thoroughly attracts me.

PW: From its previous run in Stockbridge, do you have a favorite reaction to the play?

KvG: I loved the moment that someone in the audience yelled out to our young debater, Zurie Adams,  ‘Please run for President!’ It is also incredibly exciting to witness the audience get really into the debate in Part Two; it feels like so much more than a theatrical experience. I adore that. I also always love watching the audience during the final moments of the play, when the actors are asking each other questions; the smiles on the audience’s faces are just so heartwarming. I feel a real sense of pleasure and contentedness observing that moment.

PW: When you think back on your creation of this innovative theater company, which pretty much invented a new way of producing theater, what are you most proud of?

KvG: It’s so hard to pick one thing, as there are so, so, so many things I’ve been proud of over the past fourteen years of co-founding and growing WAM Theatre. I’m so proud of the times we’ve provided the first professional job to a new theatermaker. That feels so special. I’m so proud of the relationships we’ve built and the donations we’ve made to extraordinary organizations working on the front lines of women’s issues. That was the initial inspiration for WAM, and I’m so proud that it remains an integral part of our mission and vision. I’m also so proud of how I’ve grown as a director and leader. I think of the journey from MELANCHOLY PLAY in 2010 to WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME in 2023 and all that’s occurred in between—it’s astonishing! A highlight was certainly directing ANN at Arena Stage. That was truly my proudest professional moment as a director—opening night at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., with my whole family there. I never ever could have imagined that would be something that would have happened because I co-founded WAM. Astonishing. Finally, I’m so proud of growing a community that loves our work and feels part of our WAMily. Many of them say that our work has impacted them beyond the theater experience. It has made them think about their values and their activism and opened their eyes to many new issues. To be a small part of that makes me feel proud. 

PW: What is a play that changed your life, and how?

KvG: That is a tough question! I’d be so curious how you answer that, given you’ve seen thousands of plays! I do remember seeing Fiona Shaw as Media in London as a young artist in my 20s, and I was glued to my seat. I couldn’t actually leave the theater. Have you had that experience? I just sat there, stunned at the power of the work. I also remember seeing my first musical, Cats, as an 8th grader in Montreal, Canada. I just adored it. That was another time I didn’t want to leave the theater; it was the most fun I’d ever had. In a way, I think I missed my artistic calling—I should have directed more musicals! Maybe that will be my next chapter…

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