On Stage

Chalk Circle Collective: Artists in the Driver’s Seat

By Berto Fernández

When I lived in New York City, I had the great benefit of being able to experience all kinds of Theatre. From huge spectacle Broadway shows, to experimental multi-sensory plays in small venues. It was riveting! Being exposed to such a range, opens your mind to the different possibilities our artform could manifest. San Diego’s own Theatre community continues to grow and evolve, bringing our city exciting projects that give us a glimpse of what the theatrical future could look like.

Earlier this year, Chalk Circle Collective, a new company, was founded. The Word chatted with Frankie Errington, one of the founders and director of Chalk Circle’s first production, The Turn of the Screw. When asked about how the organization came to life, they stated that it was a mutual desire to expand their potential as artists. “Michael and Megan came to me last October with the opportunity to direct Turn of the Screw. They both were striving to elevate their acting chops beyond the musicals they have been cast in. They knew I had been chomping at the bit to direct a piece beyond my educational, corporate, and assistant background. We wanted to leap, take the risk, collaborate, and self-produce. And if we wanted to do something like that, I’m sure there are more artists who wish to do so as well. Currently, there isn’t that space in San Diego. It became very apparent how necessary it is for all artists to have a space to take ownership over their work. So, we took that idea and ran with it.”, explained Errington, who is also an acclaimed actor and musician in the field.

“Chalk Circle Collective empowers artists to take ownership of the theatrical experience by providing a safe space to collaborate, to risk, and to innovate. We unite artists with diverse audiences so our community can be seen, heard, and challenged together.”

This mission statement puts the artist in the forefront, making them the root and a main component in the equation. They also become the power and connection to the community. “Let’s flip the model. Instead of squeezing the artist into the production let’s turn that around. The energy that comes with building around artists’ skills is thrilling and palpable. Inevitably, this forces discovery and innovation; challenging the artists to show up (for themselves and others) beyond what they have known before. Even more exciting is the conversation and connection reaching beyond the art and into different communities. When something is new it demands conversation. It is human to crave that communal experience. Seeing each other, hearing each other, challenging each other,” added Frankie.

Chalk Circle’s first show was an engaging piece that not only delivered the text beautifully, but also showcased live vocal loops, musical instruments, and body percussion as the soundtrack. All executed by the two sole actors, who marry all these elements in this immersive unique experience. “Building anything from the ground up has a huge learning curve. Which we expected and have not been on the ride with each twist and turn. I so want to see the success of our community and my fellow artists. Seeing Megan and Michael (Co-founders and Turn of the Screw actors) escalate and elevate themselves… wow, so rewarding to see my people absolutely slay and make discoveries for themselves. I cannot wait to see more SD artists take their own space and challenge themselves and absolutely pop off. And then feed that success right back into these larger companies and beyond,” said Errington, who looks at this endeavor as an opportunity to look at our artistry in new ways, including taking necessary risks.

Frankie also mentioned that their goal is not to compete or take space from the current landscape of San Diego Theatre. “We want to feed into what exists. Fill in that missing piece.  We are missing a space for artists to commune, collaborate, and challenge each other to achieve art built around the artist rather than having the product and then place the artist into the space. We have such a broad spectrum of companies that produce a wonderful season of shows. But we lack a space for self-producing. If we think of our company model outside the typical season, we have a different opportunity for development and cultivation of artists,” they added.

When asked to describe Chalk Circle in a few words, they chose: See. Hear. Challenge. All these elements are rooted in the collective aspect of their organization as artists, donors, and patrons. All together. San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community makes up a significant part of all three members of the collective, and Frankie elaborates on their connection with it. “I am Non-Binary. I am disabled. My life constantly demands creativity and innovation. I believe this to be a foundation of Queerness. We will empower artists to be their most authentic self.  We crave artists to relentlessly push toward telling stories in a new way.”

As a non-profit organization, the company relies on donors and sponsors who are able to fund productions and bring quality work to the San Diego stage. I presented them with a fantasy scenario in which they were given five million dollars, to understand how they would invest the money. “This needs to be invested in the future of our art form. And the art form cannot happen without the artists AND our audiences. So, this money would allow for artists to comfortably innovate and serve those who consume it. Art can be created from very little. But not without the people. Pay the artists a consistent, livable wage. Give the audience access to the live experience by lowering or ridding the cost of admission.”, Frankie answered.

In the immediate future, Chalk Circle Collective plans on doing a remount of a cabaret that founders and artists, Megan Carmitchel and Michael Cusimano, produced in the past. They also plan on expanding their artist roster from three to around five, as well as continuing to challenge artists, donors, and patrons to engage in live Theatre in a new way. 

For more information on Chalk Circle Collective, visit their webpage www.chalkcirclecollective.com