"I'm trying to be very careful about zooming into any kind of initiative or grand idea that the slate needs to be wiped clean here," says the arts programmer recently named the new artistic director of On the Boards. "I'm just simply the next person trying to figure out where we can go from here."
It's a bit of a diplomatic understatement, and you have to grant Lane Czaplinski the indulgence; the possibilities for where he can go must seem both exhilarating and daunting. On the Boards is celebrating nearly a quarter of a century as a major force—arguably the major force—in bringing innovative new work to Seattle's theater scene. It's also coming out of some years of rather public internal discord, a result of an on-again, off-again relationship with ex-artistic director Mark Murphy, a man who was a large part of the company's pre-eminence.
"I certainly was aware that they were going through their struggles— they were very well publicized—and, you know, I think that simply happens at every organization at a certain time in its development," Czaplinski acknowledges, understandably ready to shift that focus for good. "I really challenge everyone to look at 25 years of what's happened here. . . . It raises the bar in trying to figure out what the next version of this is going to be."
Czaplinski spent five years at his alma mater, the University of Kansas in Lawrence, creating educational programs with guest artists (he cites Philip Glass as a personal favorite) before moving into research and development work with the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music. In person, he seems suited to the particular vitality of On the Boards— a young, eager, good-looking guy who's passionate about the fact that change is what theater is all about.
"The challenge is that while we call this a 'transition phase,' in order for it to be a transition phase you actually have to apply yourself," he says. "I think we're going to be able to find different organizational structures that accommodate taking risks from season to season. I want us to be flexible and responsive, and continue to help artists realize work."
Until his official start date—June 1—Czaplinski will take some time to experience art in other places, including a trip to Prague for a dance showcase. "I've never been to Prague, so I get to go follow in the footsteps of [novelist Milan] Kundera and imagine myself having vertigo—act really bleak, even though it's gentrified Prague at this point," he laughs at the pretense. "I can still go pretend. Right? Isn't that what I get to do? "