“Sean Elias is a Tony Award-nominated, internationally award-winning educator, actor, and director. With a background in both performance and theatre for community development, Sean is committed to holding space for the stories of underprivileged communities to be heard, seen, and ultimately—felt.” Sean currently serves as Executive Director of the DC Arts Center and as Artistic Director for Iron Crow Theatre, Baltimore’s award-winning, professional queer theatre. In 2022, he was elected Executive Director of the District of Columbia Arts Center. He is also the Founding Chair of the internationally award-winning Performing Arts Department at the Jemicy School (Upper School), a private school in Maryland serving students with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. He currently sits on the LGBTQ Cultural Advisory Board of Visit Baltimore and on the Board of Directors for Maryland Thespians, an Educational Theatre Association Affiliate dedicated to supporting middle and high school educational theatre programs within public and private institutions throughout Maryland. (For more, go to his website.)
For Iron Crow Theatre, Sean has previously directed eight award-winning, record-breaking, and/or critically acclaimed productions including “Bare,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Edith Can Shoot Things & Hit Them,” “The Cradle Will Rock,” “A New Brain,” and “The Wild Party.” He will be directing the upcoming, reimagined production of John Larson’s Tony Award-winning musical, “RENT” at Theatre Project. The musical draws loose inspiration from Puccini’s “La bohème” and chronicles a year in the life of a chosen family of struggling young artists, musicians, and activists during the AIDS crisis.
Can you tell us, without giving too much away, in what ways are you “reimagining” the iconic musical”RENT?” How do its themes resonate and relate to today?
Well, it’s definitely not the “RENT“ you’re thinking of in your head or are used to seeing! What always struck me about this piece was the true depths of despair in which these characters are living—both emotionally and physically. So we really centered this in its truth and positioned the piece as an actor-driven event. The entire ensemble is onstage the entire production and they make the entire show happen before your eyes! We lean away from the traditional, book musical staging and really embrace the avant garde style that was popular in NYC in the 80s and 90s.
Iron Crow Theatre recently announced some exciting, new administrative appointments. Talk about that and what is means for the company.
Growth, excitement, trajectory, and sustainability! We’re so lucky to have such wonderful artists, designers, administrators, thought leaders, and practitioners who share their talents with us. Natka Bianchini, our new Managing Director, is an absolute powerhouse. This strategic move has now afforded the immensely talented April Forrer the opportunity to step into the role of General Manager—a less time-intensive position that grants her the freedom to indulge in her passion for costume design across more of our productions. What can I say about James Magruder?! His appointment to our board serves as a resounding affirmation that the work we undertake here stands out in the city’s artistic landscape. We produced his Broadway musical last season, “Head Over Heels,” which he had seen multiple times, and he was so impressed with not only the production but our company that he decided to join our Board of Directors. These new appointments represent a vibrant influx of talent, resources, and knowledge, and I am eagerly anticipating the transformative impact they will have on propelling our company into its brightest future.
You wear many hats—actor, director, teacher, executive director, and artistic director. What is closest to your heart and how to you find the time to do so much?
I think they are all closest to my heart which is why I do them all! I am so lucky that I get to do everything I love in some capacity every day. Oftentimes, people ask me this question and say, “Wow, you’re always working!” and my response is simple. Because my work is my life’s calling, I never see a distinction between working and living. Maybe it’s a larger conversation for a therapist, but each of the arenas into which I’m so honored to have been invited feed my soul in interrelated ways, that I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. It’s important to note too, that each of these roles have been with organizations that are still small and are seeking rapid growth or doing something for the first time. It’s very much a startup mentality and the demands are just greater on smaller organizations. One day, when our budget reaches a sustainable level I’ll think about a few more days off here and there.
Have you thought about putting on your acting shoes again and what role would you like to do?
I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, and I do maintain my status as a member of Actors Equity, the union for professional actors and stage managers in the United States. But for me to get back out on the boards, as they say, it would have to be the right story, in the right role, at the right time—three things that very rarely align, which is OK! My style of directing and my history and training as an actor allow me to really play so many roles when preparing to direct a piece that I sort of get my fill, even if it doesn’t result in stage time. I’m constantly on my feet with the actors in my productions, exploring and uncovering new moments! I also never ask an actor to do anything I wouldn’t do myself on stage, so in a lot of ways, even when directing, I’m still very much flexing those actor muscles!
What exciting things do you see ahead for Iron Crow—and for yourself?
There are so many exciting things ahead! The most immediate is our current production of “RENT.” I really think this is some of our best work as a company. After “RENT,” we’ve got BIG NEWS! We’ll be one of the first theatres in the country to produce the new hit queer musical, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.” It has been a dream of mine to direct since it debuted on the West End in 2017. It’s had just one other production on the West Coast, and I can’t believe we’re getting the chance to be one of the first to bring this story to life on the East Coast. It’s a phenomenal new piece based on the true-life story of 16-year-old British schoolboy, Jamie Campbell, as he overcomes bullying and prejudice in his pursuit of becoming a professional drag queen. It’s BIG both in production and in the history of our company being allowed to produce a major new musical that hardly anyone has done yet! It also comes at a time when our conversations around gender identity, especially when it pertains to our nation’s youth, are taking center stage across the political landscape. So you see—what’s exciting for Iron Crow Theatre is also exciting for me personally and professionally. I think it goes back to that whole “my work is my passion” question above.
“RENT” runs January 19 – February 4, 2024 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street,
Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.