Calderwood Becomes A Summer Shack For Small Companies
BOSTON — You might think the Wimberly and Roberts stages at The Calderwood Pavilion on Tremont Street would be quiet this time of year. The Huntington Theatre Company doesn’t have any shows running and SpeakEasy Stage Company, the usual tenant in the Roberts, is dark for the summer. Take a quick look at the calendar, however, and you’ll see that during these dog days of summer, the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) is a hotbed (though delightfully cool, thanks to A/C) of innovative, exciting theater this summer.
It is part of The Huntington’s mission to support the local theater community, having helped build the Calderwood Pavilion in collaboration with the BCA and Druker Company nine years ago. It now substantially subsidizes the rental rates and ticketing fees for the small and midsized companies that produce there. For several years, The Huntington has had a relationship with Bad Habit Productions, which is producing the two-person rock musical “Rooms” by Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon on the Wimberly Stage beginning Aug. 9. New to the fringe scene, Circuit Theatre is mounting the “Valentine Trilogy,” a three-play series utilizing several different storytelling genres, in the Roberts, opening Aug. 2.
These scrappy young companies playing in the big boys’ sandboxes are creating completely different experiences using the same toys. Take the Bad Habit folks. Each year they usher their audience behind the curtain and seat them on the stage, bringing in risers and chairs to create an intimate theatrical space. Artistic Director Danny Morris explains, “it leaves our audience with a new impression of the Wimberly Stage.”
In 2011, Morris had decided that Bad Habit’s production of “Arcadia” needed to be done in the round. Joey Riddle, Calderwood Pavilion manager, was very interested in finding new ways to adapt the established spaces and make them usable for smaller companies. Bad Habit Productions served as a guinea pig that summer, testing a setup on the Wimberly to create an intimate space. Apparently it worked because the company returned in 2012 to stage “Gross Indecency” in the same way.
This summer, “Rooms,” a rock musical by Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon, will have a live band against the fly rail. Bad Habit has access to the marquee and dressing rooms, but the greatest assistance comes from the experienced staff at the Calderwood. “We’re now surrounded by people that really care about seeing us succeed,” says Morris, “and with that comes a massive amount of support and encouragement.”
Skylar Fox, artistic director of Circuit Theatre, a relatively new face in the fringe theatre scene, agrees with Morris: “In the summer, we have gotten the opportunity to work with people who really care about our production going off beautifully. This is an enormous asset to any small company.”
With Nathan Allen’s “The Valentine Trilogy,” the young company is packing as much into the Roberts Theatre as it can. Featuring one continuous story, the company is courageously mounting three full-length plays, each in a different genre: Western, Samurai film and superhero comic. The production has 20 actors, three completely different sets with up to 35 different locations, and over 100 costumes — not to mention a live band, juggling, magic, and wild stage fights. Despite the scale of this production, the company wanted to make sure the audience was close and felt like it was a part of the action. “The Roberts Theatre was a perfect fit,” said Fox. “The space is very unique in its versatility, intimacy, and technical capacity.”
At the very top of the Calderwood Pavilion, there is work being done of a different sort and — full disclosure — I’ve been involved with the group administratively. New Exhibition Room is using the Arts Resource Room, managed by BCA, as a rehearsal space while it develops “Eep! Show,” an ensemble-based theatrical piece written by co-artistic director A. Nora Long about gender and fear that opens at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre Aug. 1. Selected as one of BCA’s inaugural Emerging Theatre Companies, New Exhibition Room receives a significant discount on rehearsal space, as well as mentorship through the BCA and its resident companies. According to Co-Artistic Director Dawn Simmons, “It’s nice to have a space that grounds everyone. Not having to change space every few days lends to a sense of constancy and stability which is very helpful, especially when doing devised work where everything is subject to change.”
In the end, for all the companies, the advantage of being at the paviilion is community. “Most importantly, this is the theater hub of Boston. Forget the Theater District,” said Fox, “We at The Circuit Theatre Company wanted to join that community with ‘The Valentine Trilogy.’” This summer, that community is buzzing like a busy hive at The Calderwood.
Robin Allen LaPlante is a local arts administrator who is skilled in the mystical arts of social media, ballet, and arts marketing. When not writing, she is baking delicious goodies, camping with her family, or playing with the crazy theater-makers at New Exhibition Room.