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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Director Michael Cochran
Paducah, KY

Who Michael Cochran is executive director of Market House Theatre, a community theater in Paducah, KY. Market House has a full-time, paid professional staff and a board of directors made up of members of the community. As in most community theaters, actors and musicians at Market House are not paid. Cochran has been a scenic designer, technical director, stage manager, playwright, and college theater instructor as well as a director. He started at Market House as a designer and technical director in 1983 and became executive director in 1995. Cochran has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. His wife, April Cochran, is education director at Market House Theatre, and their young daughter, in his words, “is growing up in the theater.”

What “I’m artistic director of the theater, and in that role, I direct some of the productions myself and oversee the directors I hire. I work with designers and the rest of the staff to make sure the show is produced at certain levels of quality and stays within its budget and the performers have a good time. As managing director, I oversee a lot of the day-to-day business of the theater: paying the bills, negotiating with vendors—everything from who’s going to print our brochures and programs to warehouse space to store scenery. I stray into development and marketing, too. I write press releases. I lay out the program myself, so I do a lot of desktop publishing. And I work with the board of directors to do fund raising, the membership drive, and so on.”

When “I work 70 to 80 hours a week. Monday through Friday, I come in first thing in the morning, and then I pick up our daughter at day care while my wife is working with the youth show from 5:30 to 7:00. Then I hand off our daughter to my wife, and I go to rehearsal in the evening. Saturday mornings, my wife teaches all morning while I’m home with our daughter. Saturday evenings, I’m at the theater. I’m there about half the time when a show is in production.”

Where “I work in our offices, across the street from the main theater, or in the theater.” (Under Cochran’s leadership, Market House Theatre undertook the renovation of three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places that now serve as the theater’s offices.)

How “I’m the glue that keeps everything together. I tend to be a team builder. I try not to get involved in all the details, but I challenge on a regular basis the way we do things, to make sure we don’t do things the way we’ve always done it ... to have a vision about where we should go. I challenge the board, too, to do things maybe they’re not comfortable with, to stretch their creative potential and stretch my own, too—to get a new audience to come to see things.”

Why “I get to create. I get to tell stories that affect people’s lives. I get to work with actors and watch them and be a part of the creative process of bringing a character and a story to life. The number of lives I’ve touched—people who come up to me and say that was one of the best times of their lives ... I had always done professional theater before, and I thought I would take a community theater job for two years. It’s now been 20 years.... You have to really like working with people, and directing takes somebody who’s a little bit of everything. I like the artistic part of it and the psychology when I’m working with actors, figuring out a character, working through literature, elements of theme and story. I like working with sculpture—a piece of a set or a piece of material. And every six to eight weeks, I like a new challenge.”

Getting There “Be well-rounded. Be well-read. I read everything I can get my hands on. You never know when you’re going to need that fact or information. Do whatever you can—any play, in any capacity. To succeed in theater you need to know a lot of people. Each person has his or her own style. The more styles you’re used to, the better theater person you’ll be.”

About the photo: Cochran is shown in his office at Market House Theatre, catching up on some e-mail before a rehearsal.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951