Northern Sky Theater Nurtures New Voices

The COVID-19 pandemic sent a dark cloud over Fish Creek’s Northern Sky Theater, but that cloud wasn’t without its silver lining. 

For Jeff Herbst, Northern Sky’s artistic director, an unexpected benefit of the pandemic was the feeling of coming back to the stage rejuvenated. He and other Northern Sky staff members did so around 2021, when they returned in person and broke in a barely used Gould Theater building that had opened late in the summer of 2019. 

Jeff Herbst. File photo.

“It struck me that we were on the cusp of newness again,” Herbst said of the experience. “It felt like a rebirth.”

He wanted to preserve that feeling, and his way of doing so was to create the NOVA (Nurturing Original Voices and Artists) Initiative. Its aim is to create more opportunities for alumni, emerging and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) playwrights. And, although NOVA is a new program, it seeks to bring back the energy on which Northern Sky was founded and built, Herbst said. 

“Back when I was in college and involved in the company, it was all about friends who wanted to create new things together,” he said. “We didn’t have any idea what it was going to be, but we just kept at it, and we kept saying to one another, ‘What do you want to do next? What do you want to write next?’ What needs to happen at Northern Sky is a refresh in that kind of development.”

The initiative began as a vague idea in Herbst’s head, but a staff meeting provided him with the feedback he needed to make his plans more concrete. 

It also gave him a director for NOVA. 

Lachrisa Grandberry. File photo by Rachel Lukas.

After Lachrisa Grandberry – a playwright/composer/actor who debuted her original play, Sunflowered, at Northern Sky last summer – shared some of her ideas at that staff meeting, Herbst asked whether she’d be willing to put those ideas into action. 

She was.

With Grandberry at the helm, the NOVA Initiative will implement these programs: 

  • The Writing Circle, an ongoing writing-workshop series
  • The Nesting Place, a program through which emerging playwrights are paired with seasoned mentors
  • Pot of Luck, a meeting place where playwrights, lyricists and composers can collaborate and experiment

“We’ll mix and match, so we’ll have people who might have never worked together, all working in a group,” Herbst said. “We’ll have composers write lyrics, lyricists doing scenes. It’s a chance to really incubate ideas and have sparks start to fly.” 

In addition to facilitating these programs, Grandberry will serve on Northern Sky’s IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Solutions) task force, help with Northern Sky’s marketing efforts, organize funding for NOVA programs – and continue acting in Northern Sky productions. 

It’s a lot on her plate, but Grandberry is excited for the busy schedule that lies ahead. To her, the NOVA Initiative is an opportunity to “fill in the gaps” at Northern Sky. The company has always valued diversity, she said, but the NOVA Initiative represents its first intentional effort to increase it.

“In order to speak to the times, we need many voices,” Grandberry said. “We need stories that share multiple experiences, and we can do that only when we make room for next-gen writers, female writers, BIPOC writers.”

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