Caitlin Stafford, BFA in Performance, 2007
Co-founder/Co-Artistic Director, Spirit Gum Theatre
Caitlin’s role as a theatre administrator was in her genes. Her mother was the cofounder of a Culpepper VA non-profit called Windmore. “I was very proud to wear a headset as ASM at age eleven for A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking.” Ironically this was also the first show produced when she co-founded Spirit Gum Theatre in Winston Salem NC.
At VCU, Caitlin explains, “I was very busy. There was always a student run production happening and I was in four or five at once. You could book any room and do a show and everybody would show up.”
Becky (McLaughlin) Hill was Caitlin’s best friend from middle and high school. She was at VCU, but got engaged and moved to Winston-Salem, “I was out of roommates. My lease was running out, so I came down for Becky’s baby shower. They had a giant space and said ‘Why don’t you come down here?’”
Caitlin got a job at Whole Foods in Winston-Salem and didn’t do theatre for her first two years. Somebody at work told her that the Children’s Theatre at The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem was looking for actors. They were producing Blues Clues and Caitlin got cast as Blue. She later was hired part-time as assistant tech director.
One of the shows she acted in was Crimes of the Heart, where she met Michael Ackerman. They began to hang out and ultimately he directed their version of White Chicks, which featured Caitlin and the other co-founder, Renee Shepard. Michael also came up with the group’s name, “Spirit gum is this glue that holds things on the face and it reflects in the community, besides moustaches were coming back into fashion.”
They started producing shows out of their pocket in a basement conference room with 32 seats, “We pretty much sold out all shows. Tickets were $8 and they’ve only gone up to $15, because we want to keep it accessible. We looked at our own wallets and said, What can I afford?’”
The company has been nomadic. They started out in a basement conference room, but now they’re renting a space in an acting studio. “It seats 48 people and is perfect for intimate shows. It’s almost like acting on film because someone will notice that little thing you’re doing.”
Caitlin is currently training to become an intimacy director and their company is first in town regularly use them. Tonia Sina (MFA ’06, read her profile here ) was there when I was at VCU, “I knew about it and followed her.”
Header image: (from left) Caitlin smiling; Spirit Gum Co-Artistic Directors- Sarah Jenkins, Michael Ackerman, Caitlin, and Jon Furr
Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the September 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.