On Jan. 21, the Hippodrome State Theater announced the departure of its artistic director, Lauren Warhol Caldwell, a director, performer and educator at the regional theater for 28 years.  

Caldwell was appointed artistic director in 1996, and made many artistic contributions that shaped the theatre over time. She wanted to expose Gainesville audiences to different structures of theater through various projects that featured classical and contemporary elements, as well as elements of devised theatre. Some of her proudest pieces included “The Glass Menagerie,” “Eurydice” and a revised version of “Alice in Wonderland.”

“I know I made an impact in this city as artistic director of that theater,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell started as an actress at the Hippodrome in 1988, when she first came to Gainesville with a friend and pursued her Masters of Fine Arts in Acting at UF. Upon graduation, Caldwell worked at UF in an adjunct position and at the Hippodrome in the education department. As the education department at the Hippodrome grew, Caldwell committed to the theater full-time. She worked in the education department and volunteered in the box office, the cinema and the Theatre for Young Audiences touring program.   

Caldwell invested time in educating kids in theater training, and expanding the education to the projects, halfway houses and prisons. She claimed there was a need to fill kids’ pockets with better, more diverse choices in life, and hoped that she impacted their lives in some way.  

Caldwell herself was a constant student while an actor and director at the Hippodrome. As a director, she learned how to communicate individually with both performers and technicians to achieve the ultimate artistic vision of the show. The Hippodrome impacted her theater education extensively because she learned how to work with the Actors’ Equity Association, and diverse groups of actors and playwrights.

“I spent time learning the theater as a whole, which eventually led to the artistic director position,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell’s time at the Hippodrome helped her grow artistically and personally. She stated that working in the same regional theatre for almost 30 years allowed her to create rather than compete. The Hippodrome was her artistic home. She wondered if she made the right decision staying in the same place for so long because she claimed she put the theater’s growth before her own potential career growth.  

“It was my life,” Caldwell said. “The regional theater allowed me to think, ‘How can I produce this show with more imagination?’ I flexed my muscles at creativity.”

Caldwell’s time as a director allowed her to create so many families out of shows and do something collectively with actors who were just as hungry as she was.  One of her favorite developments from the Hippodrome is the co-production between the theater and UF. She claimed the relationship between a university acting program and a regional theater was “invaluable”.   

“I loved walking into a room with young acting students who had a thirst for improvement and veteran actors who had years of experience,” Caldwell said. “The co-production is the one show I look forward to more than any other show.”  

As artistic director, Caldwell envisioned the Hippodrome to be a leader in storytelling, not a follower, and tell a story that impacted someone to change the way they thought about something. More than anything, she wanted to honor the playwright.  

Caldwell stated that she would like to continue working in other theaters as a director  while writing plays and having her freedom to concentrate on the art. She claimed she couldn’t see herself sitting in that director’s chair any longer; it was time to switch gears and spread her wings.