5th Wall Theatre Names New Artistic Director

Kaitlin Paige Longoria takes the reins of 11-year-old theater company.

5th Wall Theatre’s most recent play was so popular that some audience members agreed to stand in the back of the theater on closing night rather than miss the show.

“It was an incredibly successful production for us,” says Kaitlin Paige Longoria, one of the stars of “Radiant Vermin,” which 5th Wall staged at the Basement in March. “Once we started rolling, we were almost selling out of every show.”

Longoria says “Radiant Vermin,” an edgy, darkly funny play about the housing crisis, is a sign of things to come. Last week, Longoria was named 5th Wall’s new artistic director, and she says “Radiant Vermin” is precisely the kind of show she wants to bring to Richmond.

Founded by Carol Piersol and Billy Christopher Maupin in 2013, 5th Wall stopped producing plays when the pandemic hit. The theater continued its hiatus after Piersol, who also co-founded the Firehouse Theatre, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021; she died last year at the age of 71. The theater companies joined forces last September to rename the stage of the Firehouse in Piersol’s honor.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Longoria previously spent seven years in New York City working as an actress in film, TV and stage. She was a resident artist with the city’s New Light Theater Project and did a two-year intensive at the William Esper Studio, which teaches the Meisner technique of acting.

“It was an extraordinary experience, and I learned a lot of what I know from that institution,” Longoria says. “We were [Esper’s] last class before he passed away.”

After the pandemic hit, Longoria was convinced to move to Richmond by her partner Matt Mitchell. A theater graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Mitchell starred in many Richmond shows before he moved to New York in 2013 to pursue acting.

“He talked about this great town called Richmond and how he wanted to move back and be closer to family,” says Longoria, who moved here with Mitchell in March 2021. “Everyone here is incredible. Matt talked so highly about the theater community here and I just knew instantly I wanted to be a part of it, and it’s been great.”

At a Ghost Light After Party, a reoccurring open-mic piano bar event hosted by Yes, And! Theatrical Co., Longoria asked Nicole Morris-Anastasi, Yes, And!’s managing director, how she could start a new theater company from scratch. Morris-Anastasi suggested she reach out to 5th Wall instead.

Last June, Longoria met with Morrie Piersol, Carol’s widower, and agreed to help 5th Wall co-produce the play “Lonely Planet” with the Firehouse in honor of Carol.

“It had been three-and-a-half years since they had produced anything and they were really excited about it,” says Longoria, who assumed the title of 5th Wall’s creative producer at that time.

Following the success of that show, Longoria suggested that 5th Wall produce a play entirely on its own before announcing a new season. She proposed that they stage “Radiant Vermin,” which starred Longoria, Mitchell and local actress Emily Adler.

“As much as we really enjoyed our co-production with Firehouse, I felt like it was important for us to do it on our own and show that we could produce a thought provoking piece of work,” Longoria says.

Now 5th Wall is gearing up to announce its new season, which will feature either two or three plays.

“We are really focusing on showcasing young voices and edgy, thought-provoking work,” she says, adding that 5th Wall will emphasize female-identifying playwrights. “Our focus is bringing new voices to new audiences.”

5th Wall also plans to bring back staged readings and workshops; last weekend saw 5th Wall mount a series of “Porch Plays” in the Fan as part of the Fan Arts Stroll; Carol Piersol started the “Porch Plays” series in the pandemic.

“You don’t have to be around Kaitlin for long to grasp her love of and enthusiasm for the theater,” stated Joe Walton, president of 5th Wall’s board, in a press release. “I have no doubt our founder, Carol Piersol, would wholeheartedly approve of our selection.”

Longoria says she’s thrilled to have found a space in Richmond’s theater community.

“Everyone has been so open and supportive,” Longoria says. “That just makes me want to produce the best work that I can for this community.”

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