Ann Turiano and Makeima Freeland have a new theatrical calling with their new, innovative theatre company in Baltimore. They are the co-founders and co-artistic directors of Sisters Freehold.
“Sisters Freehold is fertile ground for collaboration, exploration, and advancement of the theatrical form. We seek to grow local talent — specifically young BIPOC directors and artists from outside of the classical training system — and deepen engagement with the ever-evolving art of theatre.
By exploring contemporary work, classical pieces, and everything in between, Sisters Freehold creates space for discovery by both artists and audiences. We are committed to local artists, with a mission to give the next generation of theatre leaders a running start. We prioritize fresh collaborations and quirky experiences that highlight Baltimore’s thriving arts scene. We join other anti-racist theatre practitioners working worldwide to decolonize and redefine the form for the future.”
If you were wondering about the name, Sisters Freehold, a freehold refers to common ownership of property and land. In 1648, Margaret Brent stood in front of the Maryland assembly to demand voice and vote. She was as single woman who advised the governor. She also received the first land grant in Maryland which she called Sisters Freehold.
The new company is a small, professional one “devoted to early to mid-career artists, high production values, and the art of connection.” Their vision includes shared leadership of what they call a director’s theatre and artists’ playground. It is a bridge between small/independent and professional theatre, redefining readiness beyond expensive degrees and resumes.
I had a chance to interview both women about their most recent venture.
Makeima Freeland is a Baltimore-based theatremaker, triple threat performer, and a proud member of Delta Psi Omega (ΔΨΩ). She loves what she does and does it with passion. Some of her favorite onstage roles include William Barfée (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”), Agatha (“The Moors”), and Valentine (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona”). Off-stage, Makeima was the assistant director for the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF) production of “Hamlet,” produced in original pronunciation in 2019. She is an expert in formal rhetoric thanks to her passion for wordplay and has worked as a rhetorician for the BSF production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” She has also worked as a dramaturg (“Flyin’ West”) and stage manager. As an artistic director, she plans on using her platform to redefine theatre.
Ann Turiano is a director, performer, and arts administrator. She holds a BA from the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University and an MA from London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is a proud resident artist at Iron Crow Theatre, Baltimore’s award-winning queer theatre company. Directing credits include: “kid simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh” (Loyola University Maryland); “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Decision Heigh,” and “The Rover” (Notre Dame of Maryland University); “Jerusalem” and “The Quickening”(Fells Point Corner Theatre); “The Sea Voyage” (Baltimore Shakespeare Factory); “The Zero Hour” (Iron Crow Theatre); and the original devised work, “RSVP” (Glass Mind Theatre). Teaching experience includes: Baltimore Center Stage, Everyman Theatre, St. Paul’s School for Girls, Young Audiences Maryland, and City Theatre. Acting credits include: Iron Crow Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Single Carrot Theatre, Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, The Collaborative Theatre, The Strand, and Submersive Productions.
With so many theatres struggling due to the pandemic, why did you decide it was the right time to venture into starting a new company at this time?
MAKEIMA: Now is a great time to redefine theatre. Now is a great time to right industry wrongs. The fact that so many theatre companies expressed their concern for black violence and their push for racial equality only after the fact (George Floyd), tells us that it was already known, just not implemented. As for the pandemic, we didn’t have the pandemic in mind when we decided that theatre needed to change. Our company dreams, goals, and aspirations are not limited by the pandemic. This idea actually came about in a world that didn’t yet know the pandemic as it is today. Were we supposed to let it stop us? Are we supposed to let anything stop us from conquering our mission? Perhaps it was such small excuses such as these to blame for the lack of change. Now is the right time.
ANN: The pandemic pause did give us more time to think intentionally about what we wanted to do together. We realized pretty quickly that this moment presents a rare opportunity to start fresh. We can build Sisters Freehold from the ground up and try to meet this moment. We can create something from scratch that would be impossible if we were trying to retrofit an existing structure.
Could you please explain the term “Baltimore’s theatre ecosystem” and how you are planning to fit into it?
ANN: We’re not the first to point out that Baltimore’s theatre scene is extremely stratified. There are a ton of small, independent companies, just a few occupying the middle space, with Baltimore Center Stage and Everyman at the top of this perceived hierarchy. And things feel siloed. Many artists work exclusively with one or two companies. In other cities, you see a larger mix of non-union professional companies who can pay local artists and support their artistic growth. We’re imagining a future where Baltimore loses fewer artists to NYC or DC because they can do rewarding work here in their own communities. Sisters Freehold can act as a bridge between small, independent, and regional theatres because we have something to offer both emerging and established artists. What could our theatre economy look like if we aimed to complement each other instead of competing?
Is this company going to be a platform for primarily for women in local theatre?
MAKEIMA: Primarily is a strong and distinctive word. No. Although we want to work with more women and BIPOC artists to solidify their place in theatre as they are the ones whose voices have been diminished, our company will be a platform for everyone that shares the same values as us. We do believe that female and BIPOC artists don’t have a big enough voice and it’s safe to say our company exists as a megaphone.
When and where will you be performing, and do you have any plays on the horizon?
ANN: Right now, we’re doing a lot of listening. We’ll be announcing our next steps in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
How will this be a “director’s theatre” and please tell us what that means to you?
MAKEIMA: Ever heard of the term ‘sandbox’?
ANN: For us, a director’s theatre is a sandbox: a place where artists can play and explore the art of directing no matter where they are in their career. We want to create the environment where a director can pitch their passion project and be fully supported in bringing it to life. Established directors will collaborate with emerging directors. In this community, a lot of first-time directors get tossed into a full production without much support. Directing skills can be built, but not in a vacuum. We want to be a safe place where artistic risk can equal reward. If Sisters Freehold can be a destination for hands-on director training, we can also be a place where artistic directors can see the work of local emerging artists — and then they can employ them. In a way, we aim to be matchmakers, connecting talent to the right opportunities.
For more information on this new and exciting theatrical group coming soon to Baltimore, go to their website.