“Almost everything I do is an experiment,” says Ron Evans, the very new executive director at Very Little Theatre. “I run off of data that I see from human behavior.”
For the first time ever, VLT has hired a paid executive director. Before, the 94-year-old community theater had always been run by volunteers, though it had an interim executive director while a search was conducted for a permanent hire. In the past, the community came together to choose plays, build sets, help with costumes and more. The membership program still allows the community to take part in all the action even with the new staff.
Evans has never run a theater before, but through his consulting business, advising theaters on marketing, he has worked with numerous executive directors, artistic directors and general managers behind the scenes (see his website, AskRonEvans.com). His long-term theater experience and love for the arts, he says, led him to VLT.
In high school, Evans ran followspot for The Western Stage in Salinas, California, and painted sets. He then went to film school in Chicago; later, he dabbled in video game design. Evans also participated in acting, backstage directing, producing and working for an arts council, but then he left and formed a consulting firm, working in the U.S. and in the U.K. and earning a Ph.D. in psychophysiology and performance. Some of the consulting clients include Arts Marketing Association of the U.K. and Sierra Madre Playhouse and Palo Alto Players in California.
His work in the U.K. included an experiment where people were wired to sensors that measure their heart rate, their skin temperature and the conductivity of their skin as they watch a play, Evans says.
With just more than a month on the job — he began work Feb. 1 — he is trying experiments already at VLT. He has, for example, abandoned the fussy business of scanning tickets at the door with smart phones, preferring to simply welcome people at the door to increase social connection.
VLT has been running here since 1929. Its rich history is shown in photographs on the lobby walls and in performers’ autographs on the dressing room walls. Backstage you can enjoy a library full of scripts from years past.
Evans plans to bring back concessions and refreshments in hopes that people will spend more time socializing and enjoying the newly refurbished theater building before and after the performances.
One of Evans’ goals is to make the theater more inclusive, “where we can open the doors, and make as many different types of people feel welcome here,” he says. “This is a safe place where we can have conversations about people who are very different.”
He moved to Eugene in 2019 with his family, drawn by the city’s numerous opportunities for artists and “a level of consideration for the arts that is not seen in a lot of other places.”
“I realized when this position came up — I’ve always made somebody else’s community better,” Evans says. “I’ve never had the opportunity to make my community better.”
Evans says he wants to continue reinventing the theater to attract diverse audiences who are consuming their content on numerous platforms.
“I’m really interested in anything that we can show that makes a positive impact to people’s lives, either emotionally, or socially, or having them see their stories presented on stage,” he says. “Those are all part of the grand experiment.”
Very Little Theatre opens the rom-com Prelude to a Kiss at 7:30 pm Friday, March 17. The show runs through April 2 at the theater at 2350 Hilyard Street. Tickets and more info at TheVLT.com.