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Jamie Gahlon has asked theater artists from around the country to talk about their personal search for an artistic home. Liz Engelman continues this series.

What makes an artistic home? An artistic home is where your voice is heard. It’s where you have a seat at the table. It’s where you can agree to disagree. It’s where you can leave, make your hero or heroine’s journey, and then return and there’s still a place for you. A home is where you can dare to dream. Dorothy said it best. There’s no place like it.

For me, home can indeed be a place but more often it’s a process. Mostly, it’s the journey itself. Really, truly, it’s the people I’ve met along the way. Every Dorothy needs her Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion along the journey. My homes have been the people who led me to—or lived in—the places I called my artistic home.

Where and how did you find yours and what does it mean to you?
There are times I find myself asking, “Is this my home?” Most of the time, however, I feel that if all the world’s indeed a stage, then all the world’s an artistic home, too.  I’m extremely grateful for these homes along the journey.

My first artistic home was Actors Theatre of Louisville, where Jon Jory and Michael Dixon started me on my turgical path.  It’s remained a place to return to as a touchstone throughout my career.  At ATL I acquired the skills, friends, colleagues and community that I’ll have for a lifetime. Brains. At Seattle’s ACT Theatre, alongside Gordon Edelstein, Mame Hunt, and Kurt Beattie I developed confidence in my voice, vision, taste, and talents, I grew new wings, and learned how a home can relate to its community. Courage. At McCarter Theatre, I found siblings in Emily Mann, Mara Isaacs, Janice Paran, and Lisa McNulty; they taught me the true nature of administrative and artistic collaboration. Heart.

Then there was The Playwrights’ Center, where Polly Carl offered me a sandbox, and gave me toys and friends to play with. And Lou Tyrrell and Nan Barnett at Florida Stage who gave me the (literal and figurative) keys to the car and let me drive fearlessly with the top down. And Jack Reuler at Mixed Blood Theatre who courted my voice, valued my vision, and challenged me meaningfully and spiritedly.  And, all along the way, Geoff Proehl, Brian Quirt, Mark Bly, Cindy SoRelle and all those in LMDA who invited me in, dared me to stay, challenged me to lead, and welcomed me back.

Approximately two years ago I proposed to Amy Wheeler, Vito Zingarelli, and Louise McKay who work at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, hoping they’d say yes to being my home. I’d been connected to Hedgebrook for the past fifteen years, when as the Literary Director at ACT, I helped launch The ACT/Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival. From my first moments at Hedgebrook, I witnessed firsthand what it meant for women writers to feel nurtured, supported, seen, heard, and valued. Two years ago, I needed that for myself, as a human being, as a woman, as an artist. Two months after I proposed, Amy called and said yes. I was home.

How can one create and/or build an artistic home for others?
Choosing your home really means choosing how you want to live, and then inviting others in. Five years ago, inspired by that first experience at Hedgebrook, I founded Tofte Lake Center, a creative retreat center in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, a home I wanted share with other colleagues and artists. For me, TLC reflected my own journey: taking time and making space to discover (or uncover, or rediscover) one’s passions and vision, to live what one values. As I write this now, that means fostering joy, being inspired by beauty, living creatively, being in nature and encouraging creative expression and community. We need this as human beings and as artists. I don’t really see much of a distinction between the two.

What is the artistic home of the future?
We’re back to Dorothy. I think our artistic homes are right there in our own back yards. I think they’re in our own soil, in our souls. Sometimes we have to go to the Emerald City to realize this. We have to have the dream, take the journey, and then wake to discover it’s right in there inside. At every step on my artistic journey they were there: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion—the people who showed to me my brain, my heart, and my courage. They were all right there, the entire time.

I can’t say it enough. It’s the people, as much as the places.

And you were there, and you were there, and you.

(And Toto,too).

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