Reports of the imminent demise of Savannah’s community theatres may have been premature. JinHi Soucy Rand, a community activist who happens to be an 18–year veteran of the local stage scene, is embarking on a mission to make things better for everyone.
Rand has taken over the lease at the Freight Station building on Louisville Road — the very place recently vacated by the cash–strapped Little Theatre of Savannah — and intends to make it available to pretty much anybody who wants it.
“The mission,” she says, “includes providing a venue that is more available, affordable and accessible to individual artists, art organizations, and the public.”
She’s in the process of establishing a not–for–profit company that would involve and aid artists and performers from the worlds of theatre, art, music and more.
“The goal of the organization will be to raise funds to provide a venue,” Rand, 40, explains. “It will not be to acquire renters to pay for the venue.”
Rand’s groundbreaking group is so new, it hasn’t yet been given a name.
She is not, repeat not, starting a production company of her own, for exclusive use of the Freight Station space.
“Having worked in the arts in Savannah over the last 18 years,” she says, “and seeing the ebbs and flows, it became apparent that having an arts organization also be responsible for maintaining a venue is very difficult — while providing arts at an affordable price. It became very difficult to do.
“It’s kind of been a personal goal of mine to encourage collaboration between artists. It just seemed to be a place that I could fill, that was needed. I want to make the arts accessible to more of the public.”
Of course, people will still have to pay to rent the space — the lease didn’t come cheap — but Rand, who wants to include such things as film screenings, performance art and visual arts programs, says that’ll only be a minor consideration.
“It’ll be done on a case–by–case basis, depending on their status, their mission. Also, it’ll probably include a percentage of ticket sales, but hopefully keeping the ticket sales low — because I don’t want their rent to depend upon ticket sales either.”
The Freight Station currently has 70 seats, although Rand’s improvement wish list includes bumping that up to 100, with a small gallery space attached.
“Right now,” she says, “people are renting much bigger spaces because those are the spaces that are available. They’re not necessarily what’s always needed.”
A self–described Army brat, Rand lived in more than 20 places around the world — including Korea, Italy and Germany — before landing in Savannah in 1991.
She’s seen cultures where art, the programming and distribution of it, is controlled by governments and royal families.
“In our country,” she explains, “the idea was that we are responsible for our culture. We are responsible for our art. We’re also responsible for preserving it and passing it on. And that’s why the core of these community organizations’ missions is to pass on the story. That’s kind of the core of my own mission.”
Rand spent eight years as business manager for City Lights Theatre, which once ruled the local community theatre roost. Even after resigning the official position she continued to work with the group until it went kaflooey in 2008.
Since then, she’s worked behind the scenes for numerous arts groups; she’s currently involved with A.W.O.L., the theater, music, poetry and dance collective that offers creative outlets to troubled youth.
And she’s worked with virtually every theatre group in the area.
Her ultimate goal, she says, is to foster a fertile cross–pollination between the various art forms and the people that create and compound them.
“I think that we can have a strong effect on each other. I think it would be nice for the artists to be introduced to each other, and for the public to be introduced to the artists.”
She’s seen it in action, too. “A couple of years ago I directed the Savannah Shakespeare Festival,” Rand says, “and it was a very collaborative effort between different performance art organizations.
“I considered it a success, not only in the numbers of the crowd that year, but also in that the groups have continued to work with each other. Many collaborative things have come out of that.”
Rand has scheduled an open “interest meeting” for 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at the space, which is at 703D Louisville Rd. “I hope to encourage community involvement,” she says. “We’ll discuss goals for the venue, and have suggestions and advice on what’s needed to improve it, for accessibility in various forms.”
Artists and supporters are encouraged to attend. Anyone, in fact, with a good idea.
“Everybody that I’ve spoken to personally about this has been very positive,” says Rand. “I’ve already had a couple of meetings with certain organizations — and certain events — that are looking for venues. I do believe that this is something Savannah can use.”