Loren Cade Allen has one of those large personalities that elevates the energy in any room, the kind of guy you want on your team at work, or the guy you hope shows up at your party. He’s gregarious, passionate, animated, funny, smart, and without pretense. He’s WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get, and as a lawyer and set designer, both, doesn’t fit neatly into any particular box.
In May of 2002, Loren earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence from WVU’s College of Law, and for the last five and a half years, he’s worked for the West Virginia Banker’s Association as their General Counsel and Director of Government Regulations. About his work in law, Loren states, “I’m interested in how we interact as humans, how we govern ourselves and this fragile social contract we have on this planet with ourselves.”
But then there’s the other side of Loren that many in his day job aren’t even aware of. This is his creative side that has a passion for theater and has operated as set designer, technical designer, poster designer, costuming assistant, actor, director and all of those untold behind the scenes jobs that often don’t have titles. He’s worked dozens of shows over the past 9 years for the Alban Arts Center, The Children’s Theatre of Charleston (CTOC), and Limelight Theatre Company, and Loren’s vibrant personality shines through at all of them.
“My ideas are sometimes bigger than one person can accomplish. It’s that I’m crazy, and I don’t come at this from a place of formal training, engineering prowess, or any of that. I’m just a daydreamer, somebody who loves a challenge. I found out pretty early on that if I got a script with a dragon in it, I’m going to build a dragon 40 foot long. And then I have a $1,000 budget for the whole thing.”
“For ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ I used the principles of reuse, repurpose, and recycle into my design process. I didn’t buy one stick of lumber. The whole show was finished with repurposed materials, including a 15 foot, fully functioning, spinning Ferris wheel with lights and swinging carts that was made entirely of recycled carboard from Yarid’s shoe store.”
Loren had always been interested in the arts and had been accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design when he was younger. However, the school was expensive, and his blue-collar family nixed the idea. He got caught up in building his career, raising a family, and his artistic passions fell to the wayside. But all that changed when Loren took his 6-year-old son, Jaxzen, to see “Peter Pan'' at the Clay Center.
“We were right in front, and when Peter Pan came flying out into the audience, I thought I’d have to do CPR on him. Watching his face light up, I had a moment of understanding on how art and life intersect. I thought to myself, ‘I have to do this more, I have to expose my kids to theater’, and it was a pivotal moment for me as a father. I had left these things behind, but in that moment, I felt a real need to return to the arts and instill a love of arts in my kids.
Loren’s day job as a lawyer and night job in theater seem like a complete juxtaposition, and Loren is just fine with the dichotomy.
“I live in 2 different worlds. By day it’s bankers and financial gurus, and in the evenings, I get with my creative crowd. For me to have that outlet again and to be able to interact on an emotional level is something I’m not going to get during my 9 to 5. Here? Here I can feel things, and I can be moved. For Loren, working in theater is a heart-project with deeper meaning. He believes theater can transform individuals, including the children he works with. When sharing his experiences with kids, Loren gets a little teary eyed.
“Theater changes lives. I have seen kids who, it seems to me, experienced for the first time that adults heard them and recognized them for what they have to offer. They’ve never had adults talk to them like peers, given them responsibilities. Even for kids who come from privileged families, they haven’t been expected to take charge, and that happens in theater. It’s a confidence thing. They learn for the first time what it means to contribute, to be a member of this social fabric that we’ve created here. It’s profound. I’ve seen changes in my own kids too.”
According to Loren, transformation doesn’t occur just within individuals. Theater has the power to change a community, too, through shared experiences.
“We can’t transform our whole community by ourselves, but we look at all of the great arts opportunities in Charleston. The city has done so much with public art: music, dance, theater, fine arts that you can’t even do it all.”
He uses the Gallery 64 Project (Formerly Peer to Pier Project) as an example.
“You’re driving past the interstate overpass piers on Pennsylvania avenue, doing your mundane bullshit, getting from here to there, and for 15 seconds you’re at the light, and you can get lost in a piece. For that brief moment, which is a very individual moment, in my car by myself, but weeks later, I’ll be out and someone will mention it, ‘Have you seen that painting on the pier?’ And everyone has a shared experience, even If we’ve experienced it individually. We bring 500 people into this little theater, and so you have those connections. I feel connected to you, even if you come from a different walk of life.“
Loren believes that patrons have an important role to play in a theater production as well.
“All of us, whether you’re a stage hand or the star of the show, a play doesn’t happen until there’s someone sitting out there watching and reacting. We can produce a play and have fun, laugh, cry and go through the motions, but it doesn’t feel like anything until you’ve reached out to someone and they’ve seen it for the first time. When the curtain opens and that first person with a kooky laugh or that first low chuckle in the audience, it sends shock waves through a cast and a production. They’re seeing what we’ve been doing for weeks, and that’s magic.”
The hour spent with Loren was a whirlwind of colorful and heart-felt stories that exemplify the important role that one person can play when they get involved with arts in their community. I left my meeting with Loren wishing I had another few hours to spend with him and looking forward to bumping into him at a party around town. More than that, I’m freshly inspired to see a show and to give back to the arts scene that’s helped to make Charleston a beautiful place to live.
If you’d like to watch Loren make magic, be sure to check out at least one of these upcoming shows.
“Miss Dirt Turtle’s Garden Club” a world premier by local playwright Daniel Boyd with music and lyrics by Larry Groce at the Alban Arts Center opening September 3rd., 2021. For more information and to purchase tickets go to AlbanArtsCenter.com
“The Neverending Story: Atreyu and the Great Quest” presented by Children’s Theatre of Charleston opening to the public on Friday, October 1, 2021, and featuring a giant 30-foot-long, fully articulated luck dragon puppet. For more information and instructions on buying tickets visit www.ctoc.org
“The Telltale Lilac Bush” adapted for the stage by local playwright A.E. Gill presented in the open air outdoors in two cities by Appalachian Artist Collective in collaboration with 4th Avenue Arts, Alchemy Theatre Troupe, Alban Arts Center, Children’s Theatre of Charleston, First Stage Theatre Company, and Spring Valley High School. Show opens in Charleston at Haddad Riverfront Park October 15-17 and Barboursville City Park Amphitheatre October 22-24his
Ferris Wheel for Charlotte’s Web is made of 100% repurposed cardboard and spins via rotisserie grill motor.