Interview: Meet Tim Bond, the New Artistic Director of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Bond began his tenure at the theater in March 2020...and he's still waiting to kick off his first season.
When Tim Bond finally got into an actual rehearsal room a few weeks ago in Seattle for an up-close glimpse of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley's first show of its 51st season, the new indie rock musical Lizard Boy, he couldn't contain his emotions.
"I cried several times because I missed it so much," recalls Bond, the company's artistic director. "The first time the cast went into a three-part harmony, something visceral happened in my gut and in my chest, and I just had this shiver go through me."
Bond followed a path that could only be built from the annals of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hired in November 2019 as the company's second artistic director, Bond took over for Robert Kelley, who founded and ran the company for 50 years. After what should have been Kelley's going-away party to celebrate an unprecedented tenure, Bond would have been ready to step up to the plate and dig in for the first of many seasons. His first day at his new post took place in March 2020.
In September 2021, he is still waiting for his first season to kick off.
Bond, a graduate of Howard University, is an artist with more than 35 years of experience working in major regional theaters and academic institutions, including high level appointments at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Syracuse Stage, to name a few. Despite the fits and starts of running one of the Bay Area's largest regional theaters in these strange times, he is purely philosophical about what has transpired in the first 17 months of his new role.
"Every once in a while, I have a 10 or 15-minute period of woe is me, and then ask what's in my karma that has led me to this moment," he says. "But once that's over, I quickly pivot to asking myself what I am learning from this, and what muscles these moments are developing for me in my life. I'm the leader of the company, so if I lose my spirit and go down, then we all go down. I can't really afford myself a very long time of having these momentary doubts."
Artistic associate Giovanna Sardelli has only two months of seniority over Bond, having taken over her new role in January 2020. Like Bond, Sardelli knew that theater would eventually return, but many factors contributed to what that return might look like. Social distancing and a deep dive into ventilation systems were one part of the logistical conversation, but the antiracist movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May 2020 forced an examination of every system far and wide. Theater was not spared, and both artistic collaborators dove into some transformative dialogues together about the company's role in how to build a new space moving forward, even changing the upcoming season to reflect a new commitment to equity.
"Like any theater company, the taste of the artistic director determines a lot of the programming," says the Las Vegas-based Sardelli, who also doubles as the company's director of new works and has a robust freelance directing career nationally. "We were just having those conversations when a national reckoning on race, inclusion, and how we treat BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] artists took over all conversations. So, to think now about when we can go back to live theater, I get so excited because America has been wrestling with so many issues for which we need stories. I get so excited by the stories we'll need and want to tell, and how our community will change, grow and expand."
For the longest time, telling a story onstage, even for a company with the stature of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (the company won the regional Tony Award in 2019), was low on the list of priorities. Finding equitable stories and committing to industry changes on their stages would come in due time, but Bond had much more immediate decisions to worry about.
"It's been a very difficult time to be a leader of a nonprofit theater because we've had to furlough," says Bond. "That's probably been the most heart-wrenching decision to make, but I felt good about how we tried to do it, which was to furlough people and not lay them off, which allowed us to keep folks on their health benefits. We really tried to hang in there as long as we could so people had time to make the pivots and adjustments they needed to make."
Right now, the pivots are finally starting to point in the direction of a real opening night with people flocking to the theater this October. And while the Delta variant may have the final say in another postponement for the convivial Bond and his troupe, things are looking up. The greater Bay Area is a highly vaccinated region, and the company operates two spaces in two different cities in Santa Clara County: Mountain View and Palo Alto. It's a county that boasts a vaccination rate just north of 73 percent, according to the most recent data.
There have been opening-night dates set multiple times in the past 17 months, dates that ultimately became the pipe-iest of pipe dreams. Yet Bond feels he can finally, cautiously begin preparing for his first Bay Area opening as artistic director.
"I am still reserving a little bit of sanity and not getting too hyped up, but when I do allow myself to think about it, I get a big smile on my face," he says. "Then I realize that the smile will be behind a mask, which is okay though. Just thinking about seeing people's eyes and hearing their applause as we share that molecular space gets me really excited."
Barring any other worldwide intermissions, theater audiences will once again make their way to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts this October, the last show having closed there in February 2020. And that audience will be greeted by an artistic director not named Robert Kelley for the first time in 51 years. But there's a pretty good chance that when they and Tim Bond finally meet in person, he might not see clearly who's in front of him.
Just inches above the mask that covers his radiant smile, he will most likely be dealing with a whole new set of tears in his eyes.