By Bruce Tomaso
Nathan Allen (B.F.A. Theatre ’00) had a chance to give back to the Meadows School in a way that few alums can.
In 2015, Meadows presented a play, The Sparrow, written and developed by Allen and ’02 graduates Chris Mathews and Jake Minton at The House Theatre of Chicago, an innovative, award-winning company they helped found after graduation along with a group of fellow alumni. The Chicago Tribune called the play, about a teen with supernatural gifts that could either save or destroy her hometown, “a thrilling, riveting celebration of the power of the imagination that adults and teens can enjoy, and understand, together.” Guiding the Meadows production was ’09 graduate Molly Beach Murphy, who flew in from New York City to direct.
“I was thrilled and deeply honored when SMU called and said they wanted to do it,” said Allen, who serves as The House Theatre’s artistic director.
“Meadows had provided me with such profoundly good training. My time there taught me the value of focus and discipline, of the hustle that’s required – that’s demanded – in order to succeed in the arts. That’s something that’s really stuck with me throughout my career.”
He added, “There’s a lot of touchy-feely arts education in the world. Meadows helped prepare me for the real world – the world where it takes talent, yes, but also determination and preparation and a clear purpose and lots and lots of hard work to earn the chance to do the things you want to do as an artist.”
Under Allen’s guidance, “The House” has evolved into one of Chicago’s premier innovative theater companies, in the tradition of the storied Steppenwolf Theatre Company (co-founded by Gary Sinise) and Lookingglass Theatre Company, both Tony Award winners. The House has been nominated for 70 Joseph Jefferson Awards (24 wins); became the first recipient of Broadway in Chicago’s Emerging Theater Award in 2007; and was awarded a 2014 National Theatre Company Grant by the American Theatre Wing (best known as the founder of the Tony Awards).
The House, according to its website, “aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular art form.”
“What we’ve tried to do,” Allen said, “and what I think we’ve managed to do over the last 18 years is build a creative space where anything is possible.”
One of the company’s most popular successes has been “The Magic Parlour,” a show featuring magician Dennis Watkins that’s now playing in its eighth year at Chicago’s historic Palmer House hotel.
In 2007, Allen, a Hunt Leadership Scholar at Meadows, was awarded SMU’s Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by alumni who graduated within the previous 15 years.
“Without the Hunt Scholarship, a kid like me might never have had the opportunity to receive the training I got at Meadows,” he said. “And for the University to recognize me with the Emerging Leader Award was just gratifying beyond words.
“It sort of affirmed,” he said with a laugh, “that maybe I really am good at this after all. Or at least that I’m starting to get it.”