Ed Hanson photo

Ed Hanson remembers the first time he took the stage. He was a seventh-grader acting as an extra in his sister’s high school performance of Oklahoma! He instantly fell in love with the idea of creating his character and delving into the life of a Midwestern farm kid from 1906.

Now, he’s the artistic director of Talking Horse Productions, the intimate black box theater he founded in 2012 in the North Village Arts District, which performs edgy, contemporary and socially aware scripts. This past season had more than 20 sellout shows and performed its first international show.

What was your vision when starting Talking Horse Productions?

I didn’t want to produce one show and then try to figure out where to go from there. I wanted to say, “We’re in this for the long haul. Here is an entire season of shows, and the season is balanced.” That first year, it was making sure that the perception the community had was that Talking Horse was going to be a major force in the theater world — that we weren’t going to be some little company that needed to claw it’s way into view.

How do you select scripts?

When a play is so rich, there’s a lot of meat there to discuss and digest with other people who’ve seen it. To me, that’s the mark of great theater. If it was lightly entertaining but easily forgotten, it’s probably not what I want to do here.

What does acting mean to you?

It’s being able to totally lose yourself into a character and still maintain the control that you need to get timing right, the look just right, the emotions just right. It’s really a balancing act. But (it’s also) being able to feel like you’ve really immersed yourself in a character because you’ve worked really hard to get there. It’s not the audience’s reaction, but it’s the feeling that you’ve accomplished something.

What makes Columbia’s theater scene unique?

There’s traditional theater groups. There’s outdoor park theater. And you’ve got all the things that go on with the university—both university theater with a university department and then the concert series that brings in touring groups. To me, our goal is to build a theater audience for the entire community. We need to be thinking about each other as teammates trying to build a theater community. I think it’s really good for the community to see that there’s a cooperative spirit between companies.

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