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Progress in the Arts

Ed Hanson, a workhorse for Columbia's theater scene

  • 3 min to read

Ed Hanson loves art of all kinds, including watching a play in New York, enjoying the paintings hanging on his walls or taking trips to observe beautiful architecture around the world.

If anything, he says, his love of the arts has expanded as he’s gotten older, rather than narrowed. He had his first experience with the arts at age 5 when he started piano lessons that would instill a lifelong love of music. Fast-forward to junior high school, and he discovered theater.

The two art forms have shaped his career path ever since. From his start as a music educator in local elementary schools directing musicals and choirs to his current role as the artistic director at Talking Horse Productions, his professional path has focused on music and theater. He ran Maplewood Barn Community Theatre as the business manager in the 1980s and early ’90s, and, after he retired from teaching, he pursued professional acting with multiple regional theater companies and traveled around the country. Then came the opportunity to start something new: Talking Horse Productions.

We talked to Hanson about his passion for art and his hopes for Talking Horse. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you describe the role you play with Talking Horse, your contribution there and where you are now?

So, when I had the opportunity to start Talking Horse, it was largely through the plotting of John Ott, who was my landlord — he owns a lot of the property in the North Village area. But John had approached me about taking over what was known as the Berlin Theatre, it was a small little theater that was next door to Cafe Berlin. I thought to myself at the time, you know, I’m not really sure I want to put my acting career on hold to start a fledgling business.

But it was one of those opportunities where you just gotta look at how unique that opportunity was and what an unusual challenge that would be to start something from scratch and truly make it what you wanted it to be. Creating a theater in the image of what I thought a great little theater company could be, because I had worked for quite a few companies around the country, I had seen some of really good things that I thought went well with theater, and I’d seen some things that I thought could have been done a lot better. And so trying to make sure that I developed Talking Horse sort of in the image that I wanted it to be in was really important to me.

Can you talk a little more about your time as a teacher and what that looked like?

It was a lot of work, but I feel like the arts is such a great way to help kids figure out who they are and how to function well together. I think that planting those seeds early is really important, you know I had started piano lessons when I was 5, and I just think getting an early start with that kind of stuff is what kids need in order to build a lifetime love of the arts.

What do you think has been your greatest contribution to the Columbia community, in terms of the arts?

I would love to say it’s my acting, but it’s not. I think starting Talking Horse and, you know at this point I’m in my 60s and I’m not going to want to do this the rest of my life, but I think that Talking Horse will be a steady enough company by the time I am ready to step away from it that it will be able to survive without me.

I think that that is what I am really aiming for, is that Talking Horse becomes sort of entrenched in the theater community and beloved within the theater community to the point where it doesn’t need me anymore, and that it can function as its own self without having to have my face stamped on it. So, that’s what my greatest hope is. I think that getting Talking Horse started is probably my greatest contribution.

What would it mean to you to be recognized for an award in art?

This town is just a real hotbed for the arts, there’s just an awful lot. You look on any calendar of events going on in town and we just have a huge offering of things, I wish I could get to more things myself. You know, concerts and plays and all kinds of different presentations and art exhibits and music offerings; it’s incredible what this town offers. To be recognized as a leader in such a wide-ranging area would be very special — it would be wonderful.

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