Sean Cullen Launches the American National Theatre With Co Chairs Kathleen Chalfant and Christian Borle
By: Paulanne Simmons
Many theatergoers and theater professionals are content with the present state of theater in the U.S. There are numerous regional theaters across the country and a thriving commercial theater centered on Broadway. The two do not necessarily have to meet.
Not so for Sean Cullen, the founder of the American National Theatre (ANT). For many years, Cullen, a veteran of both regional and Broadway theater, has had a dream: to create a cultural flagship in New York City that would provide a central location for the best of regional work.
That goal seems closer than ever. On Jan. 13, ANT launched its campaign for its inaugural shows: Denver Center Theatre’s productions of Mark Harelik’s The Immigrant and The Legacy. "The ANT, Made & Played in America" was held at the Algonquin Hotel, an event that featured music, cocktails, and scenes and monologues from the two plays.
Honorary co-chairs Kathleen Chalfant and Christian Borle were on hand to give their support to the event. Chalfant took part in the readings, along with Jacqueline Antaramian, Richard Topol and Russell Posner, all of whom will also appear in the forthcoming productions, directed by Randal Myler (The Immigrant) and Laird Williamson (The Legacy).
Before the performance, Chalfant explained to this reporter how she came to be involved in this project. Her principal motivation was "the force and persistence of Sean’s vision," she said. Chalfant, who has known Cullen for many years, has watched as this vision became "clearer and clearer" despite all kinds of discouragements.
This says a lot, when one considers Chalfant’s very busy schedule. Not only will she also be appearing in Woodie King Jr’s New Federal Theatre’s production of Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington and Manhattan Theatre Club’s Tales from Red Vienna, she is also a board member of Vineyard Theatre and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and a mentor for Theater Communications Group’s Open Doors program. Undoubtedly her time is precious.
Chalfant also believes these two plays, which are "American plays about the American experience … epitomize what Sean’s vision is."
The Immigrant, and its sequel, The Legacy, are based on Herelik’s family’s experiences as Russian Jewish immigrants who came to America to escape the pogroms of early 20th century Odessa. Cullen believes these two plays are especially timely given the current debate over immigration policy.
After its inaugural productions, American National Theatre expects to present two new theater works, plays and/or musicals selected from productions across the United States, and the eventual goal is a minimum of six shows per season.
American National Theatre’s plans also include educational programming in partnership with schools, arts organizations and member theaters in New York City and throughout the country; as well as a literary department that will accept unsolicited submissions of new work, which will be evaluated and made available, with recommendations, to member theaters.