Artist Spotlight: Karla Boos

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When it comes to Karla Boos, Artistic Director of Quantum Theatre, my usually talkative self is more than a little tongue-tied. What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? For twenty-five years – longer than I’ve been alive – Boos and Quantum Theatre have been trail blazers in the Pittsburgh theatre community, raising the bar on ingenuity in non-profit theatre.

Local awards given to Karla Boos include a University of Pittsburgh Freddy Award, the Pittsburgh Magazine Harry Schwalb Excellence in the Arts Award, and a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Creative Achievement Award. On the national audience level, Quantum Theatre’s work has also been covered by Stage Directions Magazine and American Theatre Magazine.

Yes, these and more of Boos’ accolades can be found on Quantum’s Website, but allow me to mention some of them here first, before I say anything else. She has a fierce and keen mind for the integrity of the artist’s process and could likely have succeeded anywhere. As an actress in the graduate program at California Institute of the Arts, she felt her peers and her self “…pushing at boundaries, but wanting more control and even more input,” she tells me that afterward, “… I chose Pittsburgh for its approachability. And I thought I could bring something different.”

Quantum Theatre has been churning out innovative site-specific works for longer than I’ve been alive. Yet, Boos tells me that she still feels like they’re finding their footing, “We can’t arrive at a sweet spot. We’re experimenters.”

Their work has been performed literally all over the streets of Pittsburgh; from the Carnegie Library swimming pool in Braddock to the Hartwood Acres stables, Quantum’s brought their audiences along for a tour of both Pittsburgh’s iconic and remote locations. Boos loves her Pittsburgh audience and their sense of adventure, as they’ve followed Quantum into the most unexpected places, physically and emotionally. And an audience has to have opinions, Boos says.

We discussed the mechanics and magic of starting a theatre company. “Pittsburgh has evolved,” she says. “There’s more of an expectation that great work can come from small companies.”

In most cases back then, Boos clarifies, “The non-profit company was the thing. Now, they can be much more independent, with things like Kickstarter – and it’s all good, but also overwhelming. What structure will support them?”

“To young artists I say: deliver something meaningful. Don’t give yourself the easy out. ‘Is it working?’ Trust yourself to answer. Plumb the depths. Address the blank page. Why? Why was I motivated to express this? It’s a grind when you don’t feel satisfied.”

In case you’re wondering, Karla Boos feels very satisfied.

When Quantum Theatre began in 1990, Boos knew she disliked the inherent separation of the work from the audience. Therefore, it became part of Quantum’s style build the set up to the level of the audience, so the action happened on the same shared plane. They’ve stayed small. Running a theatre business isn’t easy, and I asked her how it’s changed or grown in the past two decades and a half?

“We spend everything on making art. We are uninterested in becoming an institution. We know that if theatre is limiting, then the artist will respond to ”

Speaking with Karla Boos over the phone is striking. She is the most concise interviewee I’ve yet encountered and her pithy answers leave me with more questions I have to answer. We discussed her directing style and what draws her direct a piece of theatre. Unsurprisingly to me, thus far, it’s clear she knows exactly how she wants to affect people and her answer comes out in a telegram pattern, full of purpose:

“I love playing with natural light and the things that we can’t control. My pieces are physical, with a rhythm to them. Most people focus on telling a good story – my focus is more abstract. I’m always moving toward things I haven’t done before.”

Presently, Boos admits she is caught in the throes of a Baroque music obsession and fallen in love with the language of music. Quantum is in the middle of their original opera of The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare, running until October 3rd (check out our review of it here). In collaboration with Attack Theatre and Chatham Baroque, this performance is staged in an ornate musical hall in the top of the Union Trust Building in downtown Pittsburgh. Attack Theatre’s choreography and Chatham Baroque’s world class musicians combined with music direction by Andres Cladera and stage direction by Karla Boos herself, presents a unique experience you won’t want to miss.

Juxtapose her creative grit and insight with her love of Pittsburgh, and you get the very real image of her speeding through Pittsburgh’s landscape on her bicycle, inventing her next production in her mind’s eye, or perhaps stepping back to a different role. She’ll continue to make art, she assures me, but now she’s more interested in empowering others, nurturing young artists, and creating a platform for others’ work. True to her Quantum Theatre’s belief that “theatre has the limitless ability to put people in motion.”

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