Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Henley Street

A story about recent start up Henley Street Theatre Company is featured in this week's Style. It's always exciting when a new producer joins the fray. More options for theater lovers, more jobs for deserving actors, more intriguing productions for critics (i.e., me!) to analyze.

I must admit to a similar feeling as Mary Burruss when I first heard about this new company -- more fresh meat for the art-meets-business grinder. I hope Mr. Previtera has a clear head when it comes to the challenges he and his cohorts will face. "Edgy" theater sounds great to me, but I don't have to rely on it to pay my bills. I also feel a little trepidation when I hear someone talk about O'Neill and Miller as daring. "Daring" to me has been some of Yellow House's productions (e.g., set in two rooms in a Fan row house). Or how about some Ionesco or Beckett? When I went to the Humana Festival a few years ago and they had telephone booth theater -- that was cool. I've heard about taxi cab theater too. If that's not quite environmentally friendly anymore, how about rick-shaw theater? Maybe Henley should host a weekend of truly "out-there" experimental theater if they want to be daring.

Of course, some of the most daring -- and exciting -- productions I've ever seen have been one-person shows (Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop; Syringa Tree; I Am My Own Wife, etc.). These also happen to be great for a new theater on a budget. There's no dearth of folks around here who can make a one-person show soar (Scotty & JB for starters...) Just a thought...


Anonymous said...

Awww -jurt for the record, I was thinking "What a smart post!" even before you mentioned me!

Thespis' Little Helper said...

I was a bit taken aback by "daring stuff like Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller"...some of Miller's works perhaps (Resurrection Blue'), but not so much O'Neill?

Even if erring on the side of a bit "safer" than a phone booth (which sounds incredibly intriguing), what about Suzan-Lori Parks, Neil LaBute, Ablee perhaps, Nicky Silver, David Lindsay-Abaire...ok...I'll stop now.

I like to hold out high hopes for a new theatre company with such high goals, so perhaps Henley Street will push the envelope a bit farther in future season. One can hope!

Anonymous said...

PS - I wrote jurt but meant just...also - when I lived in C'Ville I was part of a project called Bar-Hoppers. We did 10 minute plays that took place in bars and that is where they were performed. It was pretty cool and I think cutting edge - I would love to see folks do something like that here.

Frank Creasy said...

I'm wishing Alex and the Henley Street organization much success. I know that their focus to start is on ensemble pieces that will help build a foundation of a company, rather than on small cast or one actor productions (though I loved Syringa Tree and I Am My Own Wife very much!) But, that's not where Henley intends to go...not out of the gate, anyway. Maybe down the road if things go well, I would presume. They're also beginning without any Equity actors, which excludes some of my wonderfully talented friends but - let's admit - many of them work regularly elsewhere and are rarely begging for roles.

We'll see. This project is no slam dunk and assumes plenty of risk, and clearly the pot shots are already being launched even in friendly quarters. But Alex seems like a committed and capable artistic director.

More acting opportunities for locals who are sometimes overlooked elsewhere...and an audience who would appreciate something more thought provoking if not necessarily cutting edge...those things have GOT to be good for Richmond theatre.

Dave T said...

Frank, you mention audience which I think is important. One of the things I respect about a company like Chamberlayne Actors Theater is that they cultivated a devoted audience before they went pro. With minimal advertising and not a lot of coverage (sorry, CAT-people!), they seem to be continuing to thrive largely because that audience has stuck with them and continues to support them. I'm a little afraid that Henley might not have many folks they can count on to come to their shows regularly. It's hard to build an audience from scratch. Here's hoping they can!

Frank Creasy said...

I'm anxious about that same concern Dave - finding and keeping that audience for Henley, and the point about CAT is well taken. I have some good friends there, and though I've not worked with CAT recently I've enjoyed several wonderful roles in their past productions. CAT absolutely knows its' audience and caters to them well, and whether or not you appreciate their production choices they definitely keep the faithful happy. Can Henley do the same? The answer won't come this first season but one thing's for sure: They're not looking to go for the lowest common denominator and play it really safe - and maybe THAT is the audience draw to build upon.

Meanwhile, I've got tickets later this month for the Tavern to see "OC" and at Willow Lawn for "Into the Woods"...and I guess the differences in those productions say a lot about Barksdale's very deliberate choices as they look to maintain their loyal audience, and still grow and attract new patrons.

Again - thank GOD I'm an actor and don't have to worry about the business side of the theatre! But it makes for interesting coffee talk, no???