AURORA | Since being named as the new executive producer for the Fox Theatre in December, Helen Murray has been logging some serious air miles.
Murray doesn’t officially start with the Fox until July 9, but she’s been flying back and forth between Aurora and Fairfax, Virginia, on a regular basis. The trips are part of her pulling double duty, putting in work to set up the upcoming season with the Fox and finish up her final season with the Hub Theatre she helped co-found just outside Washington D.C. more than a decade ago.
“It’s like leaving a baby right now, but it’s ready to grow up into the next iteration with someone else at the helm,” Murray said. “It’s hard being torn between two entities right now. I want to serve them both very well.”
Murray’s move out west wasn’t something she was actively pursuing. Murray had been approached over the course of a few years about possibilities outside of her home in Virginia. But it wasn’t until she was approached about applying for the position with the Fox that she truly became interested in leaving the theater she helped build from the ground up.
“I felt like when I visited (the Fox), it would not only give me the ability to create like I had at the Hub but it also would give me a chance to hopefully be of service to a community,” Murray said. “This is a challenge I’m interested in, speaking to the different communities in the larger community of Aurora. I’m excited about the stories I can tell to this community, stories that reflect where they come from or the stories of their lives.”
Gary Margolis, Aurora’s Cultural Services Division Manager, said Murray stood out amongst the large amount of applications the city received because of the many hats she’s worn in her theater career and her commitment to bringing a diverse set of voices to the stage.
“My goal was to find someone who would attract the best talent to the Aurora Fox because they knew we had the goal and artistic leadership to help them grow as artists,” Margolis said. “My hope is that Helen will bring a new level of innovation and service to the Aurora Fox and the greater Aurora Cultural Arts District. And through that innovation and service, help the arts district achieve its potential as a center not just for Aurora, but for the entire state and beyond of diverse cultures coming together to share their stories and cultural practices.”
The idea of building up and speaking to communities is a key focus for Murray and her life’s work. Theater for her isn’t just about entertainment, it’s about sparking a conversation in a community that leads to a better understanding of those sharing the seats in the audience. A fan of magical realism, Murray sees the fantastical as one of the best ways to connect audiences to the truths of everyday life.
“There’s something about sitting in a room together, sharing the same air with the audience and the actors alike. It’s electric and it can be a jumping off point for a conversation for everyone. We’re affected more by things that are live in front of us,” Murray said. “Magical realism, heightened theatrically, oddball charters. Those things that can make us stop thinking about the issues in front of you the way you’ve been thinking about it all along and look at it in another way.”
One thing Murray is committed to once she joined the Fox is to help bridge any gap the theater has with its surrounding community. Often, Murray said, people think of theater as an experience of the elite. And that’s a notion Murray has been working to destroy for most of her career.
“I have found when you can sort of allow the community to realize that theater isn’t a thing for the elite but it’s there for everybody, they have ownership of it. It changes the cultural landscape,” Murray said. “And when you can change a cultural landscape and the attention paid toward art, it can tie a community together and bring it closer together.”