Talespinner Children's Theatre Founder Alison Garrigan Retires

Alison Garrigan at Talespinner Children's Theatre "Harlequinade" in 2018 [Talespinner Children's Theatre]
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Good theater for kids shouldn't underestimate their intelligence, according to Alison Garrigan, founding artistic director of Talespinner Children's Theatre.

After nine seasons leading Talespinner in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, Garrigan decided it's time to retire. 

Alison Garrigan with Cleveland Public Theater's Raymond Bobgan and Holly Holsinger [Talespinner Children's Theatre]

Garrigan's passion for children's theater came from her late mother, Jo Farwell, who revamped the Cleveland Play House children's theater in the 1970s.

"The Cleveland Play House youth theater program as it stands now basically is a direct line from what my mother did back in the early '70s," Garrigan said.

Jo Farwell in Cleveland Play House 1973 production of 'Hamlet' [Kelvin Smith Library Special Collections, CWRU]

Garrigan grew up watching her mom work at CPH and soon was taking classes from her mom. When she was old enough, Garrigan began to help her mom as a teacher herself.

"She always felt very strongly that children were smarter than adults, that they were quicker than adults and you didn't have to explain anywhere near as much to them," she said. "Children are smaller people not lesser people."

Alison Garrigan (second from left) in 2017 Talespinner Children's Theatre production of "The Boy Who Stole the Sun" [Talespinner Children's Theatre]

Garrigan went on to establish herself as an actor, director and costume designer in Cleveland's theater scene.

A little over a decade ago, while attending an event at Cleveland Public Theater, its artistic director, Raymond Bobgan, gave her an idea by asking a simple question.

"'What is missing in professional theater in Cleveland?' Someone put their hand up and said, 'a children's theater,'" she recalled. At the time she was sitting next to Cleveland playwright Mike Geither, "who said I started to hum like a guitar string."

Alison Garrigan (center) onstage at Talespinner Children's Theatre 2017 [Talespinner Children's Theatre]

Not long after, Garrigan began the process of developing what would become Talespinner Children's Theater along Detroit Avenue inside the Reinberger Auditorium.

Talespinner became known for adapting folk tales from around the world, like "The Tortoise and the Hare," "When the Lion Sneezed" and "The Boy Who Stole the Sun."

Garrigan says the growth of the company has been "meteoric" since it's founding, now with four or five shows a season, an annual touring production and outreach and education programs.

Alison Garrigan (left) backstage at Talespinner Children's Theatre [Talespinner Children's Theatre]

"I don't think it would ever have occurred to me that it would've been as successful as it was," she said. "Of course I dreamed to see it grow this much."

Garrigan said it is now time to step away from the company, which is bittersweet. 

One of the reasons is that she wants Talespinner to avoid what she describes as "founder's syndrome," which is when a theater is so entangled with the founder's personality that there are negative effects. 

"I have a lot of crazy, creative voices in my head, but ultimately they're the voices in my head. I think it's important that other voices be heard," she said.

Sean and Alison Garrigan [Alison Garrigan]

The other reason she is stepping down is because she's needed at home more than ever. Two years ago, her husband, Sean, was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis.

"One of the things I wanted to do was be there when he needs me. There are good days and there are bad days," she said. "When the days are not so good, then I would like to be able to be there."

Despite her departure from Talespinner, Garrigan's theatrical dance card is full for 2020.

Alison Garrigan [Talespinner Children's Theatre]

"I'm already designing at Cleveland Public Theatre two shows this year, I'll be directing at Blank Canvas Theatre this year [and] I'm a directorial member at the Cleveland School of the Arts," she said.

In the meantime, Talespinner Children's Theatre continues on with its ninth season in the spring with African folktale "The King of the Animals." 

Talespinner expects to announce its new leader in a few weeks, Garrigan said. 

Garrigan will return to Talespinner in the fall as a set and puppet designer and playwright, having adapted the English fairytale "Robin Goodfellow and the Fairies" as the last production of the Talespinner season.

Alison Garrigan and ideastream's Dan Polletta [ideastream]

Listen to Dan Polletta's full interview with Alison Garrigan:


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