Dayton Comment

 Dayton Comment

The Human Race Theatre Co. continues casting showstoppers

By Jim Bucher

It’s summer and time to be thankful. This can happen more than once a year at Thanksgiving, you know.

First, I give thanks for our great city and region, one-of-kind Air Force museum, the awesome downtown redevelopment and our rush hour traffic that is just that … about an hour.

But I’m most thankful for the thriving arts community in the Miami Valley and, most importantly, The Human Race Theatre Co. It’s sort of like a canoe next to a gigantic ocean liner with the big guys next door at the Victoria Theatre and across the street at the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center.

You see, it’s been sailing along for 33 years now producing off-the-hook, fun, entertaining and thoughtful productions.

However, this isn’t your grandpa’s theater.

“In 1979, the late Marsha Hanna, Scott Stoney and myself founded Illumination Theatre—a theater dedicated to illuminating greats works of literature,” says Kevin Moore, president and artistic director of The Human Race Theatre Co.

“Working as a semiprofessional group without a home we were hosted by almost every local existing university and community theater,” he says.

Then in 1982 Moore and company met with Suzy Bassani and the troupe became the in-school theater arm for Muse Machine. However, Moore said jobs took them elsewhere for about four years.

“Suzy reunited us when she invited Scott and I back from NYC to help put together The Human Race. Being the mid-80s in New York this seemed like a good opportunity for a while,” he says.

“The attraction was finally having financial support behind our theater endeavors in Dayton. We knew we could finally make a difference—provide jobs for the talented theater professionals who would have to leave the area to get work,” says Moore.

Much like Illumination Theatre, The Human Race Theatre Co. had no home in the beginning. The first production was at the Victory Theatre in September 1986. After that, several theater programs were performed in schools.

“I was the first employee and worked in the Bassani home, then out of my briefcase in the Muse Machine’s office at Memorial Hall. It was then that we started to remodel the Biltmore Space and created our theater, rehearsal space and offices from 1988-1991,” Moore says.

From there the Human Race Theatre Co. was born and soon moved to the old Metropolitan store next to the Victoria, which was converted into a living, breathing arts community with The Loft Theatre, offices and rehearsal areas.

So, what are Moore’s most memorable productions? 

“I’d have to say for me are our very first; Count Dracula, Children of Eden, From the Mississippi Delta, Beautiful Thing, West Side Story, August: Osage County, Caroline or Change, Tenderly and, of course, everything this season,” he says.

Now, the The Human Race Theatre Co. is not without controversy, presenting Cloud Nine, Angels in America and Take Me Out, all adult-themed including some nudity and language. But to this writer it’s theater of the mind. You want to be challenged outside the box, your comfort zone.

Many times experiencing a show we had some lively and frank discussions at the water cooler, or in my case a pop machine that stole your money.

“I am drawn to stories that move me somehow—laughter, tears, anger or any combination. These are the stories that affect us, make us think and maybe change our perceptions. By constantly freshening the pool of actors, directors and designers I believe we keep the product fresh and constantly challenging. If it gets too easy we are doing it wrong,” Moore says.

The new kid on the block who just jumped on board is executive director Katherine “Kappy” Kilburn, who has roots in Middletown. She’s not only thrilled to be back in Ohio, but likewise steering this iconic Dayton tradition.

“This theater has so much rich history in not only the work it does but in the Dayton community. Most of my career has been producing new work and fostering the advancement of emerging artists. (The Human Race Theatre Co.) does smart and challenging work at extremely high production values. I wanted to be a part of the team that keeps that going for many years to come. And wow, do I love The Loft (Theatre)—so intimate and beautiful,” Kilburn says.

Unlike “pretend” on stage, Kilburn knows behind the scenes it won’t be smooth sailing and choppy seas is on the horizon for “The Race.”

“Finances are a challenge across the country for not-for-profits. Corporate support has slowed as companies move or close. Philanthropy has changed in general. Ticket sales only cover a portion of our annual budget, but I have to say I’m very proud of (The Human Race Theatre Co.) for our ticket pricing. Because of initiatives such as our Pay What You Can night, discounts for students, military and seniors, price is not a deterrent to enjoying our shows,” she says.

But the show will go on and the 2019-2020 season looks to be first class.

“The audience can expect some amazing stories of strong, passionate, powerful and sometimes flawed women who made a difference. And for any of our male audience members who might feel left out in many cases there’s strong, passionate men supporting these outstanding women,” Moore says.

“They will be regional and area premieres—recent New York productions— that you can see for a fraction of what you would pay to see them in NYC,” he says.

For Moore it’s 33 years and counting and looking out to the vast horizon.

“I hope to see it thriving and growing. I hope to see new audiences supporting with their money and their attendance. I hope to see a Regional Tony Award on display in The Loft (Theatre) lobby when I attend shows as a regular, and happily retired, audience member.”

The ship and her crew continue to sail right along.