Jay Kalagayan’s departure from Know Theatre, the company he founded in 1997, surprised a lot of people. He evolved from founder to actor, writer, artistic director, executive director and development director. I wondered if perhaps he simply ran out of roles to play.
In reality, he’s evolved: He married Jan in 2006 and they now have a daughter. Kalagayan, who came to Cincinnati from Virginia to attend Xavier University, launched what was first called the “Know Theatre Tribe” to create a kind of family locally. He met Jan through the company and now has a family of his own.
When Kalagayan started Know, he was the theater’s only staff member and work was nomadic, offering performances and readings in coffee shops, bookstores and art galleries. In 1999 they settled into Gabriel’s Corner, a church basement in Over-the-Rhine.
“Gabriel’s Corner is where Know Theatre really built its reputation for diverse and accessible theater,” Kalagayan says. “(It) allowed us to keep our ticket prices affordable and experiment with our programming while we developed our brand.”
He surrounded himself with creative and impassioned people. Some came and went, unable to keep up with Kalagayan’s crazy pace, often 70 hours a week.
When he connected with Jason Bruffy, Know’s current artistic director, he found a kindred spirit to sustain the artistic mission and expand it with the Cincy Fringe Festival, entering its sixth year of alternative theater and art this week.
Kalagayan’s genius has been to recruit, inspire and motivate people, sparking their passion while finding his own place in a constantly evolving equation. He recruited David Herriman as a sponsor. The generous Covington philanthropist eventually purchased a building on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine that’s now Know’s home and a mecca for theater activity.
Know’s board president, Jeff Syroney, compliments Kalagayan for creating something special.
“He has fostered the development of the small arts in the city and the region,” Syroney says. “The work he has done to create and sustain Know Theatre will have a lasting impact for years to come.”
Kalagayan has no specific plans. “I’m not leaving entirely,” he says.
He smiles when considering the promise of a lifetime subscription, adding, “I can’t wait to come back to see shows, attend events, and I’ll certainly support and volunteer for Know as much as possible. I love this place too much.”
At a recent ceremony recognizing Herriman for his contributions to the development of Covington, Kalagayan spoke briefly. He noted that whatever he does next he’ll be better prepared because of his contact with Herriman.
The same might be said of Kalagayan: He took a bright idea about a theater that would reach out to diverse and underserved audiences with plays that reflect people in our community, and he made it work. He infected others with his vision, and it remains strong and bright at today. That’s a gift that will remain long after his daily involvement fades away.
We should all thank him for undertaking this valiant, optimistic task. Our city is a better place and many people have been provoked to think about issues they previously ignored, thanks to Jay Kalagayan. He epitomizes the value arts bring to our community.
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