Women in Theatre: CATHY STREET Bids Farewell to Music City
With the closing Sunday of Street Theatre Company's In the Heights, an era ends in Nashville theater as director Cathy Sanborn Street and her husband and partner J.J. Street pack up their home in Music City and move eastward to continue their lives in North Carolina. Yet even as one era ends, a new one - for Street Theatre Company - is already under way as the critically acclaimed In The Heights marked the first STC production under the artistic direction of Jason Tucker, who succeeds Cathy Street in that role.
In The Heights served as something of a love letter to her adoring audiences and the scores of actors with whom Street has worked with over a decade spent producing, directing and starring in theater in Nashville. It was her opportunity to remind members of the local theater community of her accomplishments, but perhaps more importantly it showed Street's strengths as an artist, in particular her ability to attract new and vibrant actors for shows that ran the gamut from classical to contemporary.
In our review of In The Heights, we wrote: "Cathy Street's direction is sharply focused, while remaining thoughtfully and engagingly heartfelt, ensuring that In The Heights is delivered to her audiences with the same care and creativity as every show she's been involved with in her remarkable decade in Nashville theater. Her casting choices are on-target and may represent her true legacy in Nashville theater: She's introduced a whole new half-generation (if a generation is considered 20 years, of course) of actors to local stages, assuredly casting them in the right roles that have highlighted their talents to make certain audiences would follow them from one company to the next, one show to the next. As Street and her company have evolved over time, STC has become known for its bold choices and even better production concepts for each of its shows..."
As she gathered other artists around her to collaborate, Cathy Street's impact on Nashville theater became something that will be long remembered as she pursues theatrical adventures in the coming years. Today, we take a look at Cathy's years in Nashville, by letting her theater family express themselves about the impact she has had on their lives and what she means to them...
JJ Street, husband, partner and co-conspirator: Cathy didn't come to Music City looking to start a theatre company, but here she found a community that supported her and helped her make a dream come true that she didn't even know she had.
She's something of an accidental success story. She didn't start STC for praise, or glory, or money (good thing!), but for the love of great shows. Even after ten years, her commitment to the process is so deep that she can't get to sleep after a great night of rehearsal. She gets her joy from working with artists in the creation of performances that force an audience to laugh, cry, think, and discuss.
If you asked her if she has been successful, she'd probably struggle to answer. But when I think back on all the audiences I've seen laugh, cry, think, and discuss at Street Theatre, there's no doubt in my mind that the answer is yes. It's been an awesome ride, and we have the Nashville theatre community to thank for that.
Erica Lee Haines, longtime friend and collaborator: She's one of the few true friends that I've made in my adult life. She has done what some of us have only dreamed of doing, and she's done it with the support of the people around her. She has created a company that people desire to work for her.
She's also an amazing human being. I could talk about how she held my hand with my personal life was falling part, how she consoled me when my mother died, or how she rescued my sweet dog Alice. I could talk about her creativity, her sense of fun adventure, or all the crazy trips to the haunted Thomas House in Red Boiling Springs. I could accuse her of loving animals more than some people, and she would probably agree with me.
But what I really want to talk about is how humble she is. The only negative thing that I can ever say about Cathy Street is that she cannot take a complement! I've seen her shy away from conversations and put the praise back on other people and off of herself. I mean, what sane attention-seeking Actor does that! But that is what I truly love and admire about Cathy Street. She believed in me and my potential.
She was the first one who took a chance on me in this community and I am forever grateful. She has taught me how to be an actor, director, a teacher, and a friend.
Tosha Marie Pendergrast, choreographer for In The Heights: Working with Cathy has been absolutely amazing. As a director she has a great vision and process. I've learned so much working with her for In The Heights. I wish my first experience wasn't my last! She is a great collaborator and encourager, and she is able to pull the best from everyone she works with. I respect her greatly and will miss her presence in Nashville Theatre, as will so many of us!
Audrey Johnson, Rose in STC's Dogfight: I am having a hard time putting into words what Cathy means to me - Not only did she offer me the opportunity to create a role that became the most meaningful and fulfilling experience so far in life, but she was also the first person to welcome me in to this city and give me a creative home. I think that is one of the many things that makes her such an amazing human - her passion for creating and her excitement about bringing in people she doesn't know and just seeing what happens when a group of strangers get together to tell a story. I am forever grateful to her for trusting me to tell a story that she was so passionate about and for being my guide through the process. With her kindness and encouragement and also her incredible passion to tell every story with so much truth and connection we all were able to trust ourselves, each other and the words on the page and through this found a freedom and joy that on stage that I will never forget. I have so much respect for what Cathy has done for Street Theatre and for the Nashville theatre community and although I have not been here for very long I am so grateful that I got to be a part of it and even more grateful that I gained a beautiful friendship with an amazing woman. I am so excited for her new adventures in life and although she will be sorely missed in Nashville and I cannot wait to see what she does next.
Jason Tucker, artistic director, Street Theatre Company: When I agreed to take over as artistic director of Street [Theatre Company], I knew I had a lot to learn. One thing I learned that I never expected was how much Cathy Street is loved. She forges relationships so easily and makes people willing, comfortable, and confident to share their heart and their art. During this transition I've seen such a great outpouring of love and respect and it makes me proud to be able to try to continue that legacy at STC.
Kaila Brooke, actress: I will never forget, a few years ago, watching Cathy completely transform a group of sports-shy actors who had to convincingly play a football scene. "Oh come on you guys," she said, (or it was something like that) as they awkwardly knocked into each other, the ball rolling out of their inept hands, "Really?! Ok. Everybody outside," she ordered, handing the woman playing our gym coach a whistle. She then coached us through a girls-on-boys touch football game in the summer heat on the asphalt of the Street Theater parking lot. Because the woman can do anything.
Cut to last summer, when I was sitting in Cathy's living room staring at a script and the possibility of a monolithic show and thanking the powers that be that she was (and is!) such a positive, caring, talented, and supportive spirit that will bring the best out of anybody.
From our reviews of Cathy Street's work as a director, producer and actor at Street Theatre Company:
In The Heights (3/5/16): Cathy Street's direction is sharply focused, while remaining thoughtfully and engagingly heartfelt, ensuring that In The Heights is delivered to her audiences with the same care and creativity as every show she's been involved with in her remarkable decade in Nashville theater. Her casting choices are on-target and may represent her true legacy in Nashville theater: She's introduced a whole new half-generation (if a generation is considered 20 years, of course) of actors to local stages, assuredly casting them in the right roles that have highlighted their talents to make certain audiences would follow them from one company to the next, one show to the next. As Street and her company have evolved over time, STC has become known for its bold choices and even better production concepts for each of its shows - something that will likely remain unchanged, thanks to Jason Tucker's assumption of the role of artistic director.
Dogfight (6/7/15): There comes a moment in the two hours-plus musical when Rose invites Eddie to her room, to introduce him to her beloved record collection in which her hopes and dreams currently reside, but ostensibly to share those intimate moments of a young couple finding themselves in the first throes of passion/love/romance/discovery. As the two actors disrobe, with their backs turned toward each other - in anticipation of what is to come and in a metaphorical display of their characters' vulnerability - you suddenly feel as if you've stumbled into a very private moment. The result? You are neither shocked nor surprised, only filled with the same sense of discovery on full view in front of you.
Miss Saigon in Concert (11/16/12): Director Cathy Street, music director Rollie Mains (who confidently conducts the seven-member orchestra in its performance of the Schonberg score), stage manager Alexis Lherisson, lighting designer Steven Steele, sound designer J.J. Street and video artist Lew Phillips have come together as a creative collective to bring this stirring work to the stage with a sense of style and purpose that is palpable from the very first notes of Schonberg's expressive score and which takes audiences all the way to the contemporary opera's startling, searing and quietly affecting finale.
Caroline, or Change (9/15/12): Compellingly dramatic and musically inspiring, Caroline, Or Change-the musical now onstage at Street Theatre Company through the end of the month-might very well be the most startling and thoroughly extraordinary production from the company in its rather brief existence in Nashville. Certainly, in the few years that Cathy Street and her eponymous theater company have been presenting top-flight theatrical adventures for local audiences, the critical acclaim has come fast and furious. From affecting dramas like The Bad Seed to concert offerings like Chess, Ragtime and Tommy, or smaller-scaled musicals like Altar Boyz and The Last Five Years, Street Theatre Company since 2005 has continued to raise the bar for local theater and, without doubt, Caroline, Or Change represents the company as the apotheosis of creativity, ambition and imagination. Caroline, Or Change really is that good and you should not, under any circumstance, miss the opportunity to see for yourself what all the talk is about.
Parallel Lives (6/4/12): Holly Allen and Cathy Street play well off one another, displaying an obvious trust in each other's abilities, to create a memorable evening of theater that might be estrogen-laden, but has enough testosterone fueling it to make all members of the audience welcome. Cathy Street shows off her versatility in each of the many roles she takes on in Parallel Lives and her comic timing helps her hone in on each character's frailties and attributes like so many lasers aimed at your eyes. And there's a natural reticence about her that makes her work with Allen, who seems more outwardly demonstrative onstage, more compelling.
The Bad Seed (6/12/11): To her credit, Cathy Street has infused the production with a heightened sense of art and presentation, drawing upon the inspiration of film noir (the show's visual aesthetic is an artful blending of black, white and all the shades of grey between - save for the brilliant reds in Rhoda's costumes) in bringing her focused vision for the play to the piece. In a director's note in the show's playbill, she writes of her love for "mysteries...and good old-fashioned suspense," which should allay all fears immediately.