Allen Grimm Reads Between the Lines

Looming over a board with dozens of different switches, Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theatre, pulled a lever from backstage, expecting to send a bed of flowers onto the stage. Instead of arriving to the actors intact, however, the flower bed took a more complicated journey.

“During the last show of ‘The Faraway Nearby’ by John Murrell, a play about Georgia O’Keeffe, I was sloppy. I poorly executed my elevator cue. Instead of sending up a bed of flowers to stage, the flower bed broke platforms and the painted stage floor, sending broken shards of [plywood] around. The actress picked out the slivers of [plywood] as if they were flowers,” said Grimm.

This mishap occurred during one of his first shows as a stagehand nearly 20 years ago. Since then, he has acted, directed and produced in the theater in addition to doing technical work.

Having never seen a play before, Grimm first entered the world of theater as an English major in college, when he read works by nearly 100 different playwrights. From his long list of favorite playwrights, Grimm especially admires José Rivera, a Puerto Rican playwright and screenwriter.

“I love [Rivera’s plays] ‘Marisol,’ ‘References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot’ [and] ‘Gas,’ but the first time I saw the final scene in ‘Cloud Tectonics’ was one of the few times I have ever cried as an audience member,” said Grimm.

Rivera’s powerful use of live acting to depict stories inspired Grimm to begin acting and directing.

“It’s always about the stories; it’s always about the plays. What separated this medium of storytelling versus the others is that it was live. There was something about the act and the transformative power of the live storytelling that’s always been fascinating. I’ve had the opportunity to go work on TV and films and always turned it down…. It doesn’t seem right,” said Grimm.

As a director, Grimm aims to create a thought-provoking and emotional experience for viewers. To do so, he works with his actors to derive personal interpretations of the text.

Grimm utilized this technique while directing one of his favorite plays, Heather Raffo’s “Nine Parts of Desire,” for Andover’s Theatre 920 production this fall. The drama chronicles the lives of nine war-weary Iraqi women, who were each portrayed by three different actors.

“Each student interpreted [the characters’] monologues differently…. They all were authentic. The lines were the same, but how they [each] brought life to the words was unique and powerful,” said Grimm.

Since joining Andover’s faculty in 2013, Grimm has focused on plays about current events. Last spring, he produced “Facing Our Truth: Ten Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege,” and he is currently working with DramaLabs to produce monologues from “Out of the Blue” for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and “Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments,” a series of monologues inspired by the recent police shootings of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO., and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, OH.

Through his classes and plays, Grimm hopes to spread a greater message about art’s role in the world to the Andover community.

“Art has a place in our society.… If we want to create a certain world, then we have to go about doing it,” said Grimm. “The way I go about doing it is through theater, just like somebody else might go about doing it through another medium…. A doctor helps society by helping people stay healthy or healing people. I produce shows.”