The future is female at the Axial Theatre, where a new generation of bold women has ascended to the helm. The lauded playwright and director Howard Meyer, who founded Axial and guided it for two decades, handed the keys over to Betsy Klampert, Linda Giuliano, and Catherine “Cat” Banks this fall. Klampert serves as the theater’s managing director and general counsel, while Banks functions as a co-artistic director along with Giuliano. As for Meyer, he has become president of the theater’s board of directors and continues to lead the celebrated Howard Meyer Acting Program, a division of Axial.
For Giuliano, the theater’s legacy consistently takes center stage in her approach as co-artistic director. “All three of us are mindful that we are standing on the shoulders of Howard, who has been a full-time artist and has done so at great personal sacrifice,” explains Giuliano. “We want to carry forward his 20-year love affair with this community and this company. We want to be sure that the organization survives, and that we constantly ask, ‘How do we maximize the exposure of artists and retain them?’”
According to Banks — who is also an actor, director, and acting instructor at Axial — the new managing triumvirate is all about equilibrium. Indeed, Klampert has a background in law, while Giuliano comes from a long career in clinical social work, and all three have worked with the theater for several years prior to their new appointments.
“It gives us such a balance, to take this company and look at it from two sides of a coin, really,” says Banks. “We have the writer’s perspective; we have the actor-slash-director’s perspective; we have the performance side of it. And we can move forward taking all of those perspectives into account.”
Over the last year, Axial has produced boundary-pushing plays like Twisted Valentines and Senescence, which tackles the serious issue of chemical pollution. The works constantly push the envelope of both the potential of local theater and the quality of drama currently available in Westchester. Like Banks, Klampert similarly feels these innovative productions are largely a product of synergy and communication.
Lori Franzese (left) and Cat Banks in a 2018 production of Crimes of the Heart
“My philosophy on the way a theater should run and the way a theater should be, is a collaborative effort,” explains Klampert. “We have three key guides in our mission: to be collaborative, provocative, and relevant. So, I want to work with everyone and for everyone to make this a reality. I’d like to see [the Axial Theatre] grow and evolve as a living organism that is supported by all of the people who are attached to it, creating with it, and involved with it.”
To this end, Klampert feels their vision for the future of Axial is one that simultaneously focuses on advocacy and community, noting that the trio will continue to work on making the company and its offerings more diverse, and will continue to find and develop new writers and actors. “We’re also committed to making sure our production includes as many Westchester folks as possible, including our actors, writers, directors, and technical designers,” says Klampert. “And we are taking a fresh look at our ensemble and determining what their roles, so to speak, will be going forward.”
“We’re also committed to making sure our production includes as many Westchester folks as possible, including our actors, writers, directors, and technical designers.”
Guiliano similarly hopes that, ahead, the Axial will even extend aid to other less well-established theatrical organizations. “I would love for us to become more collaborative not only within the community of our own group, but with the many little companies out there,” she says. “I want to explore how we can support each other, and I would love for there to be a bit more of an explicit interaction with other, smaller theater companies, and for those companies to know there is an abundance of stories to be told and that can we help each other tell them.”
Banks notes that even with these high hopes, she and her colleagues maintain a firm grip on reality when plotting the Axial’s next moves. “We all have the same aspirations and goals for the theater, and we all want to go in the same direction,” says Banks of Giuliano and Klampert. “It really is lovely for all of us to have conversations together and say, ‘Yes!’ and support each other. Now it’s just about saying, ‘Okay, well how do we get there?’ It’s a support environment, but it’s also a constructive environment, as well as a work environment. Theater is art, and it’s magic, but at the same time, you’ve got to pay the bills.”
Yet despite these many complexities, Banks insists it is the eminently strong bond forged between Klampert, Giuilano, and herself that will truly ensure Axial’s success in the coming years. “It really comes down to working together to solve problems,” says Banks, “working together to forward an initiative and move toward a goal, and that means hard work. So far, I have found these two to be the exact partners I’ve needed to go on this incredible journey.”