Above: photo by Mark Berndt
“The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation.” Susan B. Anthony, to whom the quote is attributed, might have had in mind a woman just like Heidi Van. Van has assumed a place not only by the fireside and council chambers, but more significantly, in the theater, directing, acting and now designing new creative spaces. At the symbolic “fireside” alluded to by Anthony, Van epitomizes contemporary womanhood … equal parts mother and businesswoman… protecting and nurturing her daughters, she brings that same intensity to the development of her theatrical passions.
In 2009, Van opened the doors to Fishtank Performance Studio at 17th and Wyandotte in the Crossroads District. Through the end of 2014 and into 2015, Van has watched her creation grow. “Fishtank is essentially my resume. I recently acquired the upstairs studio that could become a residency space. In contrast to the black box theater, this space could be the ‘white box’ that might afford a studio type performance or staged reading.”
Van bears the title of curator, owner and artistic director. She invites playwrights and plays to be tested here. “Some of it is risky,” she explains. “There are hits and misses, but to have test audiences is a necessity. We need a place where new works can happen, where we take time and care. The plays are untried, and thus there’s great excitement. It’s a bit like the Fringe Festival all the time. There may be fun and enormous challenges, but there’s integrity in the space too.”
The bar was raised dramatically late last year when Van received a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation SEED Grant. She attended the summit in Captiva, Fla., along with staff from Black House Collective, FOKL, and Front/Space. “Clearly being nominated and receiving the grant funding means that people are watching me,” Van replied. “It means that others understand that sort of scrappy fight to keep this theater concept alive and well. Attending the summit also reminded me that I’m not alone, but my tenacity is recognized by others who have the same objective.”
Even the Captiva compound impressed Van and spurred the idea that she would soon like to offer a residency program, perhaps in the newly-acquired upstairs studio. “It’s a significant turning point,” she notes. “I am adding a larger footprint. With the work going on here, I am legitimizing the production of the local playwright. There is professionalism and integrity.”
Along with theater and acting, Van imparts her energy to others. Twice a year, she directs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City theater department, guiding undergrad intensives with students. At the Coterie Theatre, she will direct Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat, March 31 through May 17.