New London a big enough stage for Flock Theatre's Victor Chiburis

Victor Chiburis, assistant artistic director of the Flock Theatre, stands amid the company's props and costumes Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Victor Chiburis, assistant artistic director of the Flock Theatre, stands amid the company's props and costumes Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

For many millennials, especially those in creative fields such as art or design, coming back to live in their hometown after graduating from college might be considered a career death sentence. But for 26-year-old Victor Chiburis, the decision to move back to his native New London, even after studying theater and acting in New York City, was an easy one.

It wasn’t the fact that Chiburis had a strong network of family and friends waiting for him back home, although that helped, or that he knew the area well after growing up in both New London and Waterford. His return was based on the opportunity to work freely within his chosen career field — in this case, theater.

"I would rather make theater for theater’s sake and do it while being able to support myself," he said. "In the big city, especially in theater, especially in New York, you are fighting tooth-and-nail just trying to get noticed. ... Pounding the pavement, going from audition to audition, and dealing with constant rejection is the reality of the business, and I see so many people struggling to do it full time. I’m not the type of person that is interested in that."

Rather, it is here, as assistant artistic director of New London’s Flock Theatre — a community theater group founded by director Derron Wood in 1989 — that Chiburis has been able to actively participate in his chosen field, a sort of dream come true and one that was well earned.

Chiburis accepted the position in 2014, a year after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater with a focus on acting from Marymount Manhattan College, a small liberal arts college on the Upper East Side in New York City. Chiburis had, at this point, been actively involved with Flock for some years, having interned there over the summers between college semesters. In the fall of 2013, he started working as an independent contractor for the theater, taking various production opportunities, such as putting together the theater’s first "Burning of Benedict Arnold" parade and creating a shadow puppet show for the Florence Griswold Museum's annual Wee Faerie Village celebration.

"That first fall, we had a lot of gigs and we were doing some stuff in Los Angeles, meeting different artists and stuff like that. I was just happy to be busy and working in theater," he said.

That isn’t to say that he didn’t give New York a try. He spent the summer after graduating there but soon realized that a creative career in a city such as New York meant high living costs and spending more time chasing gigs than actually working.

"I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go. I don’t want to spend this much money. I don’t want to fight tooth-and-nail,’" he said.

Working with schoolchildren

As assistant artistic director, Chiburis oversees every aspect of running the theater with Wood. His responsibilities from one month to the next can range from directing a Shakespeare play to acting as Edmund in Eugene O’Neill’s "Long Day’s Journey into Night." His list of acting and directing credits with the theater already is quite impressive, having directed "Macbeth" and "Taming of the Shrew." Chiburis also helps to oversee all staging aspects of any production, including sound design, prop making and puppetry. He also helps write grants for the theater and helps to oversee its social media accounts.

"We are a two-person operation, so we really do it all," Chiburis said. "We’re interested in creating theater rather than selling ourselves and becoming famous. It’s theater for theater’s sake. So I don’t care if I’m behind the scenes, or the star of the show, or if I did the sound design — the whole package is what interests me."

Chiburis also is heading the theater program at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and works as a teaching artist as part of the state’s Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools program, which uses the arts to teach everyday subjects to children in 40-plus public schools throughout Connecticut.

"I don’t consider (the teaching program) like a day job, it’s another artistic challenge," he said. "How do I make a shadow puppet show with 40 fourth-graders, or nine shadow puppet shows with 40 fourth-graders? And how do I put it all together and teach them at the same time? That’s just awesome."

Chiburis rents an apartment in New London with a roommate. His girlfriend, who is an actress in New York City, is planning to also move into the apartment in June.

He raised his hand

His first experience performing was as a child in Flock’s annual solstice celebration, "Make We Joy," as a junior jester. But it wasn’t until his freshman year at Waterford High School, when he joined the school’s drama program, that Chiburis started to discover his love for theater. He attributes that spark to club director Shane Valle.

"He was a huge mentor for me in instilling a sense of quality and professionalism. I still swear by that program," Chiburis said.

Valle also remembers Chiburis fondly, stating that Chiburis still comes to visit him and the club and helps with productions from time to time.

"He came this fall to help with my first Shakespeare production," Valle said. "It was funny because I then became a student to him. He is a joy to have around and was once our pride and joy and now he is my colleague."

Valle said that Chiburis emerged as a leader within the club and went from performing just a few lines in his first production in his freshman year to frequently taking lead roles by the next.

"I remember Anthony Rapp, the guy from 'Rent,' came to our school, I think, because we were doing the ‘Laramie Project,’ and he talked to the drama club," Chiburis said. "He asked, ‘Who here is thinking of doing theater in college?’ and I hadn’t even thought about it but I rose my hand, and from that point on I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m doing, I’m going to be in theater because I love it.’"

Though his initial focus upon entering college was in acting, by the end of his second year, he started to realize what a professional acting career really would entail.

"It’s such a rush to be on stage and to do a good job and get recognized for it. It’s exhilarating and it’s like, ‘This is fun and I want to do this,’ but when I really thought about the question, ‘Do you want to be an actor?’ I’ve kind of always known that I didn’t," he said. "My goal was just to work in the arts."

"To come back to an area that I already like and that I’m connected to and do theater for the community, rather than try to make it in the community, is valuable," he said. "And I feel like it’s something that I can do. Whether it’s teaching or building puppets or putting on a parade, whatever it is, I can use my art and it’s welcomed here."

m.biekert@theday.com

Flock Theatre's assistant director Victor Chiburis, right, goes over a scene with Andre Burnap as Lord Hydd during a rehearsal of 'A Celebration of 12th Night' at the Chorus of Westerly's George Kent Performance Hall on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Flock Theatre's assistant director Victor Chiburis, right, goes over a scene with Andre Burnap as Lord Hydd during a rehearsal of "A Celebration of 12th Night" at the Chorus of Westerly's George Kent Performance Hall on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Victor Chiburis, standing center, assistant artistic director with Flock Theatre, directs the actors and puppeteers backstage as fourth-grade students at the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School in New London perform a series of shadow plays for classmates and parents May 6, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Victor Chiburis, standing center, assistant artistic director with Flock Theatre, directs the actors and puppeteers backstage as fourth-grade students at the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School in New London perform a series of shadow plays for classmates and parents May 6, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Millennials in Connecticut

Millennials — those between 20 and 36 as of this year — represent the largest population group in Connecticut at more than 927,000. But the group is shrinking. From 2010 to 2016, Connecticut lost 0.6 percent of its millennial population, a migration rate higher than all but 13 states, according to the U.S. Census.

In 2014, more than 17,000, or 7 percent, of young adults in the 20-24 age group moved out of Connecticut, according to the Census.

A lack of a hip urban center and the social life it offers, and a dearth of good-paying jobs, particularly in technology, are often cited as the reasons. Some just don't like snow and cold.

Others, though, have decided to stay in Connecticut or relocate here. This week, The Day will profile seven millennials who are drawn by the area's diversity, small-town feel, activism, creative energy and noncorporate job opportunities.

Read other articles in the series at www.theday.com/2017millennials.

WHAT GENERATION ARE YOU?

Millennials: 1981-1997

Generation X: 1965-1980

Baby Boomers: 1946-1964

The Silent Generation: 1928-1945

The Greatest Generation: Before 1928

Source: Pew Research Center

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