In just 3 years, Kelsey Ervi has established a reputation as one of North Texas’ most peripatetic theater professionals. And she’s just getting started
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
When last we caught up with Kelsey Leigh Ervi, she was a relative newcomer to the North Texas theater scene — working as an assistant to Terry Martin, the producing artistic director at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, while writing plays in her spare time and assistant-directing shows. We called that story “The sorcerers’ apprentice.”
How time flies. That was less than three years ago; today, the apprentice has become the master.
“Three years ago I was just starting out in Dallas, still trying to find my footing as a director,” she admits. Now she’s become a go-to talent in a variety of disciplines.
Not only has she continued to write (she had a play in WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival last year), she performs — notably in a universally-acclaimed production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play at Stage West last summer — and has directed more and more, including a one-act at the Bath House Cultural Center last June for women-centric Echo Theatre, Precious Little, that was the consensus standout at the Festival of Independent Theatres. This week, she opened her biggest show to date, WTT’s production of Lord of the Flies, which runs through Feb. 14.
Oh, and she’s producing and doing photography and podcasting and even does sound design on occasion. But we’ll get to some of that later.
The short truth is, at just 26, Ervi has become one of the most promising talents in North Texas.
“Kelsey’s passion for the art of theater has been apparent since I met her,” gushes Terry Martin. “She has proven to be an artist of great taste and vision, and the DFW theater community is lucky to have her voice among us.”
Ervi accepts the praise humbly — her enthusiasm for her colleagues is as sincere as theirs for her. “I’m very fortunate to be in the community, working with the talent level we have here, which is pretty remarkable.” Precious Little’s, she insists, “was a very good show, but it just kind of happened. It became something I didn’t really expect it to be. We actually created this moving piece of theater, which has a lot to do with my lead actress, Sherry Ward, who was so amazing.”
None of it “just happened,” though. Even by her own account, Ervi has been “go-go-go” for the last three years. “In 2013, I did nine shows [as a writer/director/performer], in 2014 I did 10 and this last year was six, and a lot were really special. It was a professionally a very successful year for me. I get to work with people I want to work with and people who want to work with me. And WaterTower has afforded me a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things and come up with ideas that are creative.”
Which is why she jumped at the chance to direct Lord of the Flies. A stage adaptation of William Golding’s Nobel Prize-winning allegory about British schoolboys stranded on a desert island who create their own militaristic, tribal society might not be the kind of property you’d immediately association with a Texas girl in her mid-twenties.
Which is exactly the point.
“As a female, as a young person, as a lesbian, I don’t want to do just ‘gay material’ or ‘female material;’ I want to find work that is challenging and engaging and creates a dialogue,” Ervi says. Martin concurs.
“I knew that Kelsey was ready for a larger challenge and was thrilled to give her the opportunity [to direct Lord of the Flies],” he says. “This play was something I felt should would excel at.”
“This is my biggest thing as a director — definitely the biggest budget,” she says. “It was ambitious, no doubt. There are definitely more moving parts [than most smaller shows I’ve worked on].”
Her concept shows a depth that goes beyond her years. “What happens on that island isn’t because they are on the island. They can’t escape it — it’s society,” she says. “This play is about subject matter that is in our everyday lives. It’s totally relevant issues of gun violence in this country, as well as issues going on overseas.”
Social consciousness is as much a part of her aesthetic as anything else. Erv and two colleagues — Jeremy Dumont and Kathryn Taylor Rose — just recently launched the Little Big Scene Podcast, which discusses the state of theater in North Texas, including interviews with local practitioners. (The sixth episode dropped just this week.)
“We’re having a lot of fun, though I’m surprised sometimes we have the time to do it,” Ervi grins. “We had been wanting to have a podcast about Dallas-Fort Worth theater [because] we heard all these conversations in various cliques of the theater community, issues about space and money and casting and diversity and inclusion and women in theater — hot-button issues. We wanted to create a platform that was accessible to everyone so that we can realize we’re all one big community.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2016.