I’ve got to tell you, everything about this whole episode made me quite emotional.
As I walked back into the welcoming foyer of the Chicken Shed Theatre—for the first time in many year – my mind was instantly taken back to the wonderful memories my wife and I had dropping our then 9 year old son off for rehearsals, at this magical venue that “celebrates inclusion to enrich lives and transform our world.” That’s a hell of mantra to live up to. But believe me Chicken Shed Theatre does all that and more.
I met up with the wonderful & deeply passionate Artistic Director, Lou Stein, who took over the reins of this magnificent theatre some 3 years ago. I thought Chicken Shed was a magical place before, but Lou is taking it to a whole new level of professionalism whilst following their mission to make Chicken Shed a pioneering and inclusive company that makes beautiful and inspirational theatre—bringing together people of all ages and from all backgrounds to produce outstanding theatre that entertains, inspires, challenges, and informs both audiences and participants alike. Step inside and share in the magic.
“I realized I didn’t want to write about facts—I wanted to write about fiction. Things that somehow illuminate the world around us in a very different way.”[3:50]
Lou is a New Yorker through and through. He can trace the beginning of his story to where he is now with a common thread of diversity—something he was raised around in South Brooklyn. It wasn’t until he attended Northwestern University in Chicago that he fell in love with theatre and began to see its power to bring together people from different social background and ethnicities. Fiction was a revelation for Lou in the way he saw it as a conduit for illuminating the differences and similarities between us all.[12:55]
Lou made the move the London and started his international career at the Gate Theatre, which no one had really heard of at the time. Timing was key in his success, as he came at a time when it was a little easier to get by in the city with the income he made at the theatre through profit share—something indicative of how much of a collective the theatre was at the time. A huge move came for Lou as he transitioned to Watford Palace Theatre, succeeding Michael Attenborough. Then only a couple of years later Lou started his own company: Lou Stein Associates, a company he set up as he was figuring out where the trajectory of his career was taking him. In the end, his entrepreneurial spirit won over as he set out to do his own work.
“Every communication that you have—whether you work in property or insurance or wherever, has to tell a story. Even if you’re on the phone’‘[28:05]
The direct connection between Lou and Chicken Shed came about through his son Ethan who was born with Down Syndrome. As the father of a child with a disability, Lou saw how isolation can happen for both the parents and the child. A friend of Lou’s gave him the number for Mary Ward at Chicken Shed, and before he knew it, Ethan was at the programme and going through a tremendous transformation. Ethan gained a confidence Lou hadn’t seen before, and he saw how once you walk through the doors at Chicken Shed no one is any different from anyone else.
Lou took over as Artistic Director after seeing an ad in the Guardian, and he has set out to give people a foundation at Chicken Shed to change their lives. I can’t recommend enough getting out to see a performance at Chicken Shed, which now has locations and outreach programs internationally.