Mike Sablone is three months fresh out of Los Angeles, arriving in Greenville as the new producing artistic director for the Warehouse Theatre. He has worn plenty of (important) hats in his career that started with journalism in Rhode Island (the police beat was not for him, he discovered) until he found that he could actually get paid for his favorite activity of reading (and then developing) plays by becoming a dramaturg. His work includes the development of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which earned a Tony Award nod. Even with photo ops with the famous—Matt Damon (from Promised Land, for which Sablone was co-producer in 2012) and The Office’s John Krasinski (an old friend and with whom he was director of development for Krasinki’s production company, Sunday Night)—he’s got plenty to look forward to here, especially the Warehouse’s upcoming season.
Play Time // With a career as a dramaturg—and partnerships with the likes of John Krasinski—Mike Sablone enters The Warehouse Theatre with a depth of know-how from both stage and screen.
Sablone, effused by a morning run (though he strikes one as a naturally energetic), took a moment before taking his staff out to lunch to sit down for a chat:
So, I keep hearing you’re from Los Angeles, is that right? >>
I spent 12 years there, but no, I’m not from L.A. I spent five years in New York before that. If you had told me when I was growing up that I would spend almost 20 years living in New York and L.A., I would have assumed there was a disaster that made everyone live in those places. It tickles me to think that most of my life was spent in those two places, but I’m from Massachusetts.
Back in the day, one might have asked, ‘Why would you move to Greenville?’ but not anymore as this town is great, no? >> People do say ‘Why would you want to move here from L.A.?’ and I want to say, ‘Don’t sell your town short. And, I think your version of Los Angeles might not be Los Angeles.’ (laughs) I did theatre in L.A. for seven or eight years and then I switched to film and TV, and it was a hard decision, but it was one that I made because I had a great opportunity working with a friend who was one of my oldest friends and collaborators who was starting a production company, and I thought if I’m going to do it, I’ll try it here. I wanted to take the dramaturgy that I was doing in theatre and apply it to film and TV, which I did and was successful, but the thing about the film and TV industry is that you have to sort of be everything to everyone, and I was missing the conversation with an audience and immediacy of live theatre.
And that friend you’re talking about was John Krasinski? How did you meet? >> I’ve known John for almost 20 years now. We met while we were both living in Providence, and working together was a dream, especially considering we were both unemployed struggling artists living in New York, dreaming of the days in which we’d get paid, someday, maybe, hopefully, to practice our art. Our production company was called Sunday Night, in honor of the late nights spent dreaming about that future. He is incredibly encouraging as a boss, friend, and collaborator, and his encouragement and enthusiasm help make the impossible possible.
And judging from photos of you online, you’ve shared the same breathing space as Matt Damon. >> The best thing about the people I’ve worked with, famous or not, is that everyone is there for the same reasons: to tell stories that matter in the best possible way. Working on independent movies, you’re all there in service of the story and everyone is an equal, so in that way producing Promised Land and The Hollars felt like theatre to me. Matt Damon, Margo Martindale, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins—they all got their start in theatre, and they all continue to act in plays, or to produce, or to direct, or just in general support the arts. It was always great to talk with them about theatre they had just seen or had done.
So, please tell me what exactly a dramaturg is or does. >> Dramaturgy is a thing that, I think, I’ve been talking to my parents about for 20 years and I think they might almost have a handle on what it is. So I never assume anyone understands when I’m like, ‘Here’s a word you’ve never heard of and that’s my career’ and people are like, ‘That’s a made up word.’ (laughs) It’s basically an editor for new plays. My main job as a dramaturg is to make sure that what is in the writer’s head is on the page; the best version of her play is realized. In film and TV, there’s a lot of ‘Sure, but also we would like to make a billion dollars so maybe she doesn’t know what’s best.’ That’s a bummer because the artist is who knows what’s best for the art.
Did you know anyone here before you made the leap across the country? >> I know people that had worked here. I had friends in the area—in the Asheville, Clemson, Charlotte triangle. It feels like I’ve lived here for both five minutes and five years. Everyone has been so kind and lovely and familiar. One of the reasons I was so excited to take the job is that this felt like home to me. Across the board—from the staff to the donors to the ticket buyers to the artists.
And I’m guessing yours is not a “nine to five” job by any means? >> The job sort of never stops. Which is amazing because it doesn’t feel like a job. If someone had told me you get to spend 24 hours a day thinking about theatre, reading about theatre, talking about theatre with artists and staff and ticket buyers that you love and respect. . . . It’s a dream.
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