The DC performing arts scene will be losing one of its visionary artistic directors this summer. Hub Theatre’s artistic director Helen Murray will be moving on to become the Executive Director of the Aurora, CO Fox Arts Center.
Beyond being the Hub’s artistic director, Murray co-founded Hub about a decade ago with Marey Oakes and Maggie Ulmer. Murray has also been seen around town as an actor and director and has penned a number of plays. Under Murray’s artistic leadership, the Hub has received many Helen Hayes nominations and awards for DC-area professional theater excellence.
The Hub also instituted annual theatrical features such as its Emerging Writers Festival and New Play Fest under Murray’s leadership. Since about 2010, The Hub has been producing its theatrical work in Fairfax County at the John Swayze Theatre, the New School of Northern Virginia. It should be noted that one of Murray’s plays, Redder Blood, won the 2016 Jewish Play Project playwriting contest. (Note: I have been a judge for the Jewish Play Project for the past three years).
Now, before getting into my recent in-depth interview with Murray, let me provide this one quote from a previous chat when I asked Murray what kind of plays interested her. The response was quick in coming; one that says it all for the near decade she has been the Hub’s artistic director. Murray seeks out plays that can be “everything Hub is about – hope, love, family, music, comedy, and magical moments.” Now that is a wonderful goal-setting sentence to read, re-read and savor.
So, having closely followed Murray’s DC area theatrical journey over the years, let’s get to the interview, shall we?
David: What led you to co-found The Hub? What was missing in Northern Virginia at the time you co-founded The Hub?
Helen: When The Hub was founded there was little professional theatre in Fairfax County [Fairfax County is the largest jurisdiction by population in the DC metro area and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the region]. Little did I know that Mark Krikstan was busy founding 1st Stage (Tysons) at the exact same time. It was wonderful that he was, we ended up doing our first show at 1st Stage. I started The Hub after working for years on DC stages and in particular with playwrights in development, or with artistic directors who would bring me in to read plays out loud for their potential season selections. I felt that there were writers that were being passed over, and wanted to give them a place to be heard. I also wanted to see more plays onstage that lifted our humanity rather than show the darkness in it – that could just be that I had been acting in a lot of dramas for a while, who knows. However, all those factors led me to found The Hub with my two counterparts.
What were some of the challenges in founding the company and being the artistic director?
Money. Money has always been the biggest challenge and will always be – for every AD, anywhere. But like anything that is a constant challenge, you just do your best and take it as it comes. What seems impossible can all of a sudden be eased by a helpful donor, a new grant, and in-kind donation. Speaking of, Season 10 could still use a boost – anyone want to help out? All joking aside, the community in DC/MD/VA that cares about art is a passionate one and they show up when really needed.
What have been some of your greatest “happy moments” as The Hub’s Artistic Director?
My happiest moments are watching the audience. Seeing them take in our work and go on the journeys that we put forth has always been one of my favorite things about my job. And the collaborations with exceptional artists. Putting together groups of artists to create something worthwhile is an incredible feeling. I have been fortunate to work with the artists that have come through The Hub and it what I will miss most.
You seem to enjoy finding and producing theatrical gems about love and family? Why?
There is no great secret to finding the work, I just keep reading until I stumble on something that feels like Hub. And now that literary directors and many writers know my penchant for certain types of work, the plays find me. I produce them because the longer I have been creating theatre, the more I have seen it as a service to the community. Artists should feel tasked with challenging an audience, deepening their understanding of a story, and allowing them to see inside themselves and each other, which in turn helps them connect to one another and the world. It sounds like a grand idea, but it really is a small one. Just me, trying to do my part, in whatever corner of the world I inhabit.
If you could look back, would you do it again, co-found and become The Hub’s artistic director?
Anything you want to say about your new job in Aurora, or who will become The Hub’s next artistic director, please feel free.
I have only just started working with the Aurora Fox and am starting to meet this community. But I am genuinely excited to work with the Fox staff and to share the stories I care about. I am also excited to help Hub’s Board choose my successor and to help them get situated before I leave. It’s a wild ride to be sure, and I am so glad I am on it.
For more information about The Hub Theatre, go online.