Erin Reilly, Theatre Horizon

Erin Reilly Artistic Director, Theatre Horizon

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Erin co-founded Theatre Horizon with Matthew Decker, recently leading a $1 million campaign to build and open a new venue for the company on Arts Hill in Norristown. Erin has directed over 15 productions, working with both professional actors and students. As an equity actress she has performed on numerous area stages including the Walnut Street Theatre and Wilma Theater. Theatre Horizon’s Education Department is near to her heart, and she draws on her experience teaching for education programs at the Wilma Theater, Lantern Theater, and Mum Puppettheatre, among many others. She serves on Creative MontCo and the Board of Theatre Philadelphia, and was named one of Philadelphia’s 76 Creative Connectors by Leadership Philadelphia


Tell us what your greatest personal challenge is, and how you’ve achieved success in spite of it.

Perfectionism! It’s lethal. Sometime during college I realized that “Done is better than perfect” and that “if you leave it to the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” My perfectionism had been holding me back from achieving the things I wanted to do. Now, I know how to turn out personally satisfying, award-winning work of which I’m proud—without turning myself into knots trying to make it “perfect.”

Name something that guides both your personal and professional development and helps you to regain focus during challenging times.

My desire to be a mother. I always knew one day I wanted to be a parent and now, with two little boys and a little girl on the way, my kids help me step back, see the big picture, and re-focus in on what’s really important in life. Being a mother and co-parent with my husband has made me a better listener, and helped me let go of the little things.

What do you believe is at the core of why women hesitate to “lean in” and pursue leadership roles where they are?

Because it’s hard to lean in when so many barriers are in the way of women! First a young woman has to muster the imagination to look past the very limited female role models our culture displays to young girls. If a woman manages to survive the princess-ification of girlhood, she must then survive the taunts, aggression, and sexual bullying in which teenage boys sometimes engage. Lastly as an adult, she has to navigate the wage gap and the time management challenge of marriage and mothering, where women still do the bulk of the domestic work. Without consistent encouragement from other strong, real-life female role models, it’s very challenging for a woman to navigate these roadblocks and stay on a path to becoming a leader.

Tell us one of your greatest professional accomplishments, and why it meant so much to you?

Bringing together disparate groups of people to build and open a $1 million theater company in an economically underserved town where many, many families with children live below the poverty line. Now, Theatre Horizon is an anchor of community life, an economic engine for the neighborhood, and a place where people from all walks of life come to enjoy a good story together, and imagine a better, more harmonious future for our society.

How do you manage fear in both your work and personal life?

At work at my non-profit, I look far into the future to outrun fear. Most of my fear is about not having the funding necessary to fully serve artists, audiences, and especially the young students who benefit from our artistic programs. But when I map out possible strategies I could employ over the next three to five years, I can usually find a path out of paralyzation and into action. At home, my response to fear is the opposite.  I have a child with Cystic Fibrosis, a deadly disease, so fear for his wellbeing hits me when I least expect it. My mantra is, “One day at a time. There’s no point worrying about the future. Our family will face whatever comes with strength and love.”

What do you believe will be the greatest global benefit to having more women in leadership roles?

More peace, less war. Solving more global problems more quickly. More compassion, less greed. I was an Anthropology major at the University of Pennsylvania. When you study the behavior patterns of males and females over thousands of years, what emerges is that females evolved to work collaboratively with other human beings, and, in general, to put the good of the group ahead of naked self-interest. These were adaptive traits in primitive times. I see these ancient instincts playing out time and again on my all-female leadership team at Theatre Horizon.

What have you found to be the most effective way to motivate and energize your team?

Doing meaningful work that truly makes the world a better place is far more motivating than any other benefit I could offer. I try to listen to the issues and concerns of our young and passionate staffers, see where they align with the biggest issues facing our community, and then do projects that marry the two. One example was a 6-month partnership with local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Another is our weekly class where we teach drama to children with autism.

What is at the “core” of your drive and motivation to succeed?

I have an internal clock that measures injustice. It started ticking when I was five years old living in the segregated south where I saw black children around me raised in poverty and white children benefited from centuries of institutionalized racism. In adulthood, I’ve educated myself about the plight of marginalized Americans. As a privileged white female, I have a responsibility to correct injustice where I can, and that drives me to bring together people and resources to try to make something good happen.

For more information regarding Erin, check out the links below!

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