With 15 years of local theater experience behind her, and the immense cred of having co-founded Theatre in the X, a West Philly-based company dedicated to providing accessible dramatic productions in that area’s Malcolm X Park for zero dollars, LaNeshe Miller-White is the perfect candidate to take over Theatre Philadelphia.
The new Executive Director of Philly’s theater scene marketing-promotions org, will keep her job with Theatre in the X, and has experience in marketing from her time managing Painted Bride Art Center for nine-plus years. She was named a 2012 Knight Foundation Emerging Leaders Fellow, a 2013 National Performance Network Wesley V. Montgomery Memorial Mentorship and Leadership Award winner, a 2015 and 2017 City of Philadelphia Performances in Public Spaces grants recipient, and the smartest choice to boss Theatre Philadelphia. Along with offering her congratulations, LaNeshe Miller-White and I got down to the business of Qs and As.
A.D. Amorosi: How did it occur in the first place being named the new executive director of Theatre Philadelphia? Was this a gig you knew you wanted when Leigh Goldenberg left? Did TP come after you as they knew your positions regarding leadership?
LaNeshe Miller-White: I applied when the position first opened up in March, about two weeks before the stay at home order. Then the world changed and I figured the hiring process was halted while everyone figured out pandemic life. About a month ago I had an interview, and I had my first day on August 10.
A.D. Amorosi: How do you think you will broaden or what is your perspective on broadening the levels of inclusivity that Theatre Philadelphia had as part of its mission?
LaNeshe Miller-White: Because I am a part of the theater community that often feels underrepresented (Black companies, BIPOC companies, independent artists and producers, producers with nontraditional models, companies without a building) I am in a unique position to be able to make sure that more people know about the opportunities that Theatre Philadelphia provides… That audiences can be connected to these formerly underrepresented groups… And that I can advocate for the needs of people and companies that haven’t felt included.
A.D. Amorosi: In regards to marketing and promoting the region’s theaters, you couldn’t have joined Theatre Philadelphia at a weirder time. What about that challenge thrills you? How do you best market and promote a theater scene that is there virtually, and will probably remain so for a minute?
LaNeshe Miller-White: It’s exciting for me as a person with a marketing background to look at new ways of creating theater and new ways of reaching audiences in this primarily virtual theater world. We should not shy away from using all of the available marketing channels we’ve used in the past to market virtual theater – print, digital, in-person (where safe), radio. There is a current mindset that digital theater can only be promoted digitally, and that does everyone a disservice.
A.D. Amorosi: Any clue, hint or information as to what and how the Barrymore Awards will occur?
LaNeshe Miller-White: Not yet, ask me in a month or so.
A.D. Amorosi: Tell me what it means, going forward, to wear two hats – running Theatre Philadelphia AND running the now 7-year-old Theatre in the X you cofounded.
LaNeshe Miller-White: What many people don’t realize is that I’ve always run Theatre in the X while maintaining another job or other jobs. What’s exciting about my new appointment is that the work and community connections I’ve cultivated over the years benefit both organizations. Both lanes run parallel to each other.
A.D. Amorosi: What is Theatre in the X’s immediate plans? What does the 20/21 season look like/shaping up to be? I know Theatre in the X did some digital theater presentations like “Viv Is for Vengeance.”
LaNeshe Miller-White: Right now we’re doing short storytime performances for kids on a few West Philly blocks that are a part of the Philly Playstreets program. It’s a performative storytime of the Cameroon story “Sense Pass King.” We’re all masked up, and only one person actually speaks while the rest of the ensemble acts out the story. Look out for some spooky digital content in October. We’re also doubling back on the research phase of our original piece “The West Philly Play” that was supposed to happen this August. Because the content of the piece has come from interviews with West Philadelphians, we would be remiss to not have more community conversations, or Community Play Sessions as we call them, to get the West Philly perspective on Coronavirus and the civil uprising, especially the stand-off that happened with police on 52nd street. We hope and pray that by next August we’ll be able to present our annual Malcolm X Park production as normal.
A.D. Amorosi: What is your take on virtual theater – streaming, filmed, radio?
LaNeshe Miller-White: It doesn’t have the same magic as in-person theater but it’s still great. I don’t get to watch or listen to as much as I would like because I do so much Zoom-ing during the day I just can’t sit at my computer for leisure much. The virtual theater I enjoy most are the experiences where live chatting is available. Typing in responses and comments with others while watching a virtual production is a communal experience that is new for audiences. You could never talk as much during a live show, and you don’t talk during a movie, but the chat rooms in virtual theater are a fun way to connect to other audiences members and the performance in a way that is unique to this time.
A.D. Amorosi: Any time left for acting? I know you did the Juneteenth presentation with Iron Age Theatre.
LaNeshe Miller-White: I think since the stay-at-home order I’ve done more acting than I actually had done for a while. The convenience of self-taping and recording theater has made it easier for me to flex my performance muscles. It makes me excited to get back on stage when we can.
A.D. Amorosi: The LaNeshe Miller-White life motto is?
LaNeshe Miller-White: Be the light you wish to see in the world.