“The fastest way to innovative theatre: take the Bridge.”
“We value an ensemble approach to all projects because we believe a community of artists working collaboratively provides for a richer, more fully developed product and allows for a community of good ideas to coexist.”
– Vali Forrister, producing artistic director Actors Bridge Ensemble
New York actor and teacher Bill Feehely came to Nashville to tame the music business in 1994. He landed at Belmont teaching the first Meisner Technique acting class ever in Music City. Calling his class Actors Bridge, Feehely wanted to build a bridge between the fast-paced theatre arts of New York City and his new home in Nashville. In 1995, using his teaching as its foundation, Feehely and Vali Forrister cofounded Actors Bridge Ensemble.
Bill Feehely, ABE’s founding artistic director: “Since then, we’ve envisioned the ‘bridge’ a lot of different ways—a bridge to unite the music industry and theatre, a bridge to invite new talent into the Nashville theatre scene, a bridge to introduce the students of our training program to professional theatre, a bridge to help young women traverse the rapids of adolescence.”
In addition to its long and recurring association with Belmont University, Actors Bridge has also been in residence at St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt University and still holds classes, rehearsals, and occasional performances at a converted meatpacking plant in north Nashville called the Neuhoff Site. In its fifteen-year history, Actors Bridge has produced sixty-three provocative and socially relevant plays including twelve world premieres and thirty-two Nashville premieres. They’ve trained over two thousand actors who have gone on to impact every stage in town as well as film, television, regional theatre, and Broadway.
In 2005 Vali Forrister created Act Like a Grrrl and added it to ABE’s repertoire. An annual, four-week, autobiographical writing program for girls aged 12–18, it offers the space and support for young women to gain a public voice, work with professional female mentors in a variety of creative fields, and foster friendships with peers from diverse backgrounds. Last fall the program was adapted at the Tennessee Prison for Women as part of the Lipscomb Initiative for Education program where incarcerated women work on their associate’s degrees. The class of seventeen students spent the semester writing about their lives and turned those writings into a performance piece that was performed in the TPW gymnasium for an invited audience.
The Actors Bridge Ensemble has always been one of our most versatile theatre companies. It’s a no-nonsense, learn-it-then-do-it family. Its creative merits and artistic confidence can’t help but impress you. Add to that ABE’s legion of students and volunteers and you begin to understand why a strong family can accomplish almost anything.
Vali Forrister, ABE producing artist director: “Actors Bridge is first and foremost about the ensemble—the community of artists that work together in an ongoing way for years to create meaningful experiences for our audiences and ourselves. We are invested in those relationships. There’s not a person who comes through the door that Bill or I don’t know and care about. Volunteering with us is just an expression of dedication to the ensemble principle. You may be an usher in the current production, on stage as an actor in the next one, and up in the light booth on the show after that. And when everyone cares about the good of the other, it’s a joy to serve in so many ways.”
If you haven’t already, discover Actors Bridge Ensemble, Theatre for a New Nashville during its current production of Vincent in Brixton by British playwright Nicholas Wright. Directed by Bill Feehely, starring Brent Maddox, Kim Bretton, Jessika Malone, Mitch Massaro, and Colleen Allen, it will run May 14 through May 23 at Belmont’s Black Box Theatre. www.actorsbridge.org has information.
by Jim Reyland
Jim Reyland is a playwright and producing artistic director of Nashville’s Writer’s Stage theatre. His new play A Terrible Lie will receive a free staged reading on Friday night, May 21, directed by Barry Scott, featuring Matthew Carlton, Jamie Farmer, Cecil Jones, Jane Jones, Martha Manning, Dorothy Robinson, and Brian Russell at Writer’s Stage, 1008 Charlotte Avenue. A fully staged, open-to-the-public workshop will be produced October 18 through November 21, 2010 at Writer’s Stage. www.writersstage.com has information.