In 1993, when Richmond city began to look for a new firehouse, Carol Piersol and several of her acting classmates jumped on the opportunity to create a theater space already outfitted with the requisite high ceilings. Thus, the Firehouse Theatre was born, and Piersol's been the artistic director ever since.
Piersol, 55, had been in Richmond since 1985, and knew immediately that the theater company she wanted to form would be different from any other in the area. Since its inception, the Firehouse has produced only contemporary American plays that have never been brought to Richmond.
"We've never tried to do something for the masses," Piersol says. "We only want plays that are thought-provoking, on the edge. Our audience is growing, and I think that's because we've stuck with our mission."
In addition to producing its own full season, offering acting classes, an annual playwriting contest and the musical Firehouse Cabaret, the Firehouse opens its doors to poetry, film, assorted festivals and other theater companies, including the Yellow House films and Just Poetry Slam!
"We try to partner with companies to keep our rent down because we know how hard it is to get started," Piersol says, "and the city was so generous to help us."
The Firehouse has gained the trust of Richmond audiences, Piersol says: "Its notoriety has changed from, 'Oh, I don't want to see the stuff that they do, it's going to be that avant-garde, inaccessible stuff that I'm not interested in.'
"The audience understands now that cutting edge doesn't mean it has no value or will be of interest to only a small group," Piersol says. "It's become legitimate. If we approach nudity, drugs and profanity it's not done gratuitously or for shock value, it's got value as part of the play. A play can be thought-provoking, profound and highly entertaining at the same time."