What’s ahead for The Nerve, a theater company founded by Sinclair grads

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Theater company’s co-founders seek plays that are raw, real, relevant

Fortunately for drama lovers in the Miami Valley, Jenna Valyn and Chris Hahn fell in love with theater and with one another as well.

Since launching their own company in 2014, the married couple has been entertaining local audiences with theatrical productions aimed at “people who are adventurous, progressive, and open-minded and who consider themselves risk-takers.” Both Valyn and Hahn are Sinclair Community College theater department grads.

Their troupe, originally titled “The Playground,” recently rebranded as “The Nerve,” making it clear they’re intent on producing plays that require some chutzpah. Valyn and Hahn have been successful enough to increase artists’ compensation over the years, keep ticket prices affordable and build a resident artist team of seven.

ExploreNew mystery novel set in Dayton

This week the company is announcing an ambitious season that will be staged at the PNC Arts Annex and kick off Oct. 20. The plays all explore identity.

“I know many people who have experienced identity crises, as well as those who have experienced significant moments of self discovery during this past year,” says Valyn. “All three of these plays feature characters who are either coming to terms with who they are, questioning who they are, or discovering who they want to be.”

We chatted with Valyn about the troupe and what they’re hoping to achieve in the coming year.

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Q: How did you choose the plays for this season?

A: We opted to lighten things up just a bit this season. We felt audiences could use a bit of an escape and artists would appreciate the opportunity to explore some lighter content as well.

When we begin reading a play, we ask ourselves a few questions: Is this play authentically depicting the human experience in a very visceral way? Do the characters feel like real people? Is the subject matter relevant? Why is it important to tell this story right now? How will this story impact an audience?

We gravitate toward plays written by screenwriters very often because they seem to write dialogue in a much more honest and conversational way.

ExploreMusical instruments needed for Dayton students

Chris and I saw “The Dream of the Burning Boy” in Chicago and it really impacted us emotionally. The play is written by David West Read, one of the writers and executive producers of the TV series “Schitt’s Creek.” It’s a play about navigating grief and how that process is so different for every person. It’s also about discovering the importance of living your life without regret. (On stage Oct. 20-31)

I was initially attracted to “Friend Art” because it had this sitcom-esque feel to it in the way that the scenes and dialogue are written. It’s written by Sofia Alvarez, screenwriter of the Netflix film, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” It perfectly captures that time in your life where you are really taking stock of everything and asking yourself “Am I who I want to be?” (On stage Dec. 8-19)

“Puffs” is totally a departure from our typical plays. We wanted to challenge ourselves to do something different and give our resident artists (who are all hilarious) a chance to stretch their comedic muscles. (On stage May 18-29)

Q: How do you feel about performing in the PNC Arts Annex?

A: We dig the Annex because it’s a black box style theater that provides an intimate environment for audiences attending our performances. We are able to reconfigure the space in multiple ways that allow us to bring audiences in very close to the action.

Q: What do you look for in an actor?

A: We want to work with actors who take the work seriously and the craft of acting seriously, but who don’t take themselves too seriously. Divas need not apply. We pride ourselves on creating a very positive, collaborative environment.

Q: What do each of you love about theater and how did your love of theater develop?

A: We both love the level of rawness that can only come from sitting a few feet away from an actor who is going through an emotional journey. It is a powerful and visceral experience.

I owe my love of theater to my grandma who has been taking me to see shows from a very young age and got me my very first role when I was seven years old. Chris discovered theater later in life when he decided to take a theater class at Sinclair and never looked back.

Q: Why aren’t more young people going to the theater?

A: The biggest reason young people aren’t going to the theater is that it’s so expensive. Theater can also come off as very elitist and that doesn’t sit well with young audiences. We try our best to create a very casual, approachable atmosphere at our shows.

Also, there is so much content out there for consumption that in order to attract a younger audience, you have to give them a reason to turn off Netflix and get off the couch.

ExploreMasks required for all visitors to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Q: What do we hope audience members will take away from attending one of our plays?

A: We hope that audiences will walk away from one of our shows feeling affected. Maybe they loved the show, maybe they hated it. We want them to leave the theater still thinking about the show and feeling the urge to unpack what they just experienced.

We also make it a personal challenge to make people forget that they are watching a play. The experience is so intimate they feel like they are just watching real people living their lives.

Q: Are you getting support from the community and did you get grant money during COVID?

A: We did not receive any support during the pandemic outside of our Dare 2 Have Nerve Fundraiser. We have received sponsorships from small businesses and grassroots donations that have helped to keep us afloat. Most grants require companies to have a very large operating budget. It has also been challenging for us to build a strong working board that specializes in fundraising and development.

Q: Why are you committed to doing theater in Dayton?

A: Dayton is our home and the connection you have to your home is significant, unlike any other place you choose to live in your lifetime. We love the people here, especially their passion and fighting spirit. Dayton, as well as our surrounding cities have so many skilled artists, designers, and technicians who deserve the opportunity to showcase their skills and be valued for those skills. It really does feel like Dayton is on the rise and it’s an exciting time to be here. We are so proud to be a part of all of the growth, innovation, and revitalization that is happening in this city right now.


All tickets can be purchased for $20 at daytonlive.org/events or by calling the Dayton Live Ticket Office at (937) 228-3630. Two “Pay-What-You-Want” performances are offered for the final dress rehearsal and a talk-back performance.

For more information: Email: hey@nervetheatre.org; Facebook: nerve theatre; Instagram: @nervetheatre and Twitter: @thenervedayton

About the Author