Ten years is a long time to handle both the artistic direction and day-to-day administrative operations of a small nonprofit theater — especially when you add in directing or acting in a couple of plays a year. But that's what Sharon Graci, co-founder of PURE Theater, had been doing until the beginning of this August. That's when she and PURE's board of directors hired Laurens Wilson, a PURE Core member, as the new managing director.
"You have no idea how excited I am," Graci says. "I am so confident that Laurens is the right person at the right time, as we embark on the next 10 years of PURE. In Charleston, it's pretty rare to see a person of Laurens' experience assume responsibility for all of the administration and financial operations of a theater company."
Wilson is going into his first full season as a Core member, though he's already acted in two PURE plays, In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) and Parhelia. (Wilson's wife Erin Wilson, also an actor, was in last season's Good People and Clybourne Park.) He grew up in Charleston, but he and his wife moved here only about a year ago. Before coming down South, they spent time in Baltimore, Chicago, and Columbia, working in theaters in each city. "I'm trained as an actor," Wilson says. "But my undergraduate degree is in financial management."
That's made him a perfect candidate for administrative and financial positions with small theaters, which he's held in all three — now four — cities he's lived in as an adult. In Baltimore, Wilson was the managing director for the Actors' Equity Everyman Theatre, where he oversaw extensive growth during three seasons. He then relocated to Columbia's Trustus Theatre, where he was the development and marketing manager, and finally moved to Chicago, where he was the managing director of the startup Pine Box Theatre. Then he and his wife decided to return to Charleston. "It was just time — we wanted to come home. And being theater people, we were aware of PURE in Chicago," he says. "PURE was at the top of our list. They matched our theater aesthetic, which is newer, contemporary works."
Wilson began his job officially on Aug. 5, and though it's currently a part-time position, he and PURE's leadership expect that over time it will grow into a full-time gig. "The idea is to allow the company to grow into supporting the role," he says.
Currently, the new managing director is spending much of his time getting familiar with the company's financial and administrative history, while making sure that everything is on track budget-wise for the new season. "One of the biggest challenges with any small nonprofit is cash flow management. It's something you have to look at certainly every day," he says. Soon he'll begin handling most of the marketing as well, working toward fulfilling PURE's vision of growing both its regional and national presence.
But that doesn't mean he's giving up on acting — he's still a member of PURE's ensemble and will be in their production of The Birds this October. "I would love to be in more plays this season, but I think I'm going to have my hands full," he says.