We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie B. Turner, PhD. and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Katie, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Turnkey Theatre started as a summer project between myself and my student from San Diego State University, J’Arrian Wade, who approached me (over zoom) during the spring 2020 semester after the pandemic shutdown moved us all online. They wanted to know how we could continue to offer theatre as the live experience it is intended to be when we couldn’t gather in person. We had both seen zoom theatre popping up already, in the form of staged readings and other exploratory performances, but were dissatisfied with the static flatness of theatre’s translation to zoom. So we put our heads together and eventually came up with the idea for a production called Homecoming: A Meditation on the Natural world. This production is a 35-minute interactive guided meditation that is a fully designed immersive soundscape and includes a box of items for the listener to interact with that was mailed to their homes. In this way, we were able to merge recorded media with live experience, creating a production that relied on the participant to do things in the moment to complete the experience of the story. Our initial prototype was a success and encouraged me to work with J’Arrian and our other artists to reimagine the experience for a wider audience and launch Turnkey Theatre. Mostly this was because, in the process of creating the original Homecoming, I saw how little there was in San Diego in terms of experimental, immersive, or interactive theatre. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, but compared to Los Angeles or New York, it is very much on the fringe here. I see this kind of experiential storytelling as the next most important evolution in theatrical work, and so decided to launch a company that dedicates itself to its creation. Coming out of the summer of 2020, I was also interested in creating a space for emerging artists to tell new stories, to help address the gaps in representation that exist in the traditional theatre. Creating new stories from new writers in new forms that encourage direct audience engagement and wanting to share these ideas with my community, in a nutshell, is why Turnkey Theatre exists today.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

I think what sets me apart from others is my investment in the idea that we can’t continue to reproduce the same methods and ideas towards theatrical production and expect change or growth. To institutionalize theatre is to freeze it in time, ensuring that it will not speak to the audiences or the artists of its present moment, which, in my opinion, is its entire purpose. It’s possible to honor the legacy of the past while still prioritizing the needs of participants in the present, and it’s this balance I seek in creating a company dedicated to new work and new modes of production.

When I was in college, I decided that I would do whatever it took to ensure that I was working in theatre full time. Now, 20 years later, I have achieved that goal. My path did not go how I expected. Like many artists, I earn the financial stability I need through teaching, and use my “free time” to create productions and run my company. This has worked well for me because I am a teacher at heart, and for that I’m grateful. But it has not always been easy. Teaching and artistic production are both highly demanding, and to spend all my time doing one or the other often carries a high personal cost, whether it be sacrificing social opportunities or running out of time for self-care. I have learned that setting boundaries between my personal life and work is important for long-term success (although to this day I still struggle in maintaining them!).

I want the world to know that creating new things always comes with risk, but without risk of failure, or even without failure itself, we cannot grow. If we don’t make ourselves uncomfortable from time to time or face challenges we are not sure we can achieve, we will never grow. Creation happens in discomfort and uncertainty, and I encourage you to embrace it. That is what we do in Turnkey Theatre–wear our hearts on our sleeves and ask our audiences to join us on voyages into the artistic unknown.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well we would of course spend a minimum of two days in Balboa Park, right off the bat. Perhaps Day 1 would be a general tour and a visit to the Museum of Man. Day 2 we would do a deep dive into the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Arts, perhaps finishing up with a stroll through the Japanese friendship garden. Then we could catch sunset at Ocean Beach and finish the night with dinner at Hodad’s and some drinks at any bar within walking distance.

Day 3 could be more lazy, driving up the coast to Del Mar and spending some time at the beach off 26th Street and Via de la Valle, which is near where I used to live. We could spring for a nice dinner at the Brigantine while we are up there.

Day 4 we could enjoy some more lesser known places, like Chollas Lake Park in the Oak Park area, and a walk around the San Diego State University campus, where I work as a lecturer in the School of Theatre, Television, and Film.

Day 5 it will be time to see some shows, checking out our independent gems like Moxie Theatre, Diversionary Theatre, Cygnet, or whoever has the most exciting show on at the time. Then a night on the town in Hillcrest, with dinner first at Tacos Libertad, then drinks at the Cache speakeasy nestled behind it. Dancing and more drinks at Gossip Grill will see us through the night!

Finally, on the last night, a more personal touch, with a dinner party/game night at my house with close friends.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This company would not be possible without the willingness of everyone who has worked on a Turnkey Theatre production–first and foremost, J’Arrian Wade, for taking the initiative to show up in my zoom office hours that fateful afternoon, asking questions that desperately needed asking. A shoutout to our playwrights, including J’Arrian Wade, Eliana Payne, and Kay :De. We would be nothing without the designers to bring our work to life, including the sound-wizards Andrew Gutierrez and Neha Pearce, graphic designers Beau Gavin and Kay :De, and video designer Adam Parrocha, MFA. A special thank you to the actors who give life to our words–Eric Clark, Gabriel Igtanloc, Marisa Taylor Scott, Carla DeJesus, Jamie Boyd, Rebecca Meyers, and Prosper Phongsaiphonh, to name just a few! We are grateful to have the assistance of Social Media specialists Ciarlene Coleman and Jade Boldenow for helping us get our message to our community. For financial and moral support, a shoutout to friend and mentor Randi McKenzie. Thanks to San Diego State University, for supporting the Summer Undergraduate Research Program that helped us develop our first prototype, and for various other resources. And to anyone who has ever seen a show or passed on word about our work to another person, a very big THANK YOU–we are nothing without an audience

Website: www.turnkeytheatre.com

Instagram: @turnkey.theatre

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-turner-phd-423350a2/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClCyLToPmvSiDmQARv3cXTQ

Image Credits
Beth Accomando (KPBS image)

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