When it comes to live theater, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little on the side. Even the most devoted theater fan, the loyal subscriber who never misses a main-stage production, sometimes feels the need for something new and exciting. Something a little wicked, even. Then there are those long-ago loves, not seen in years, that reappear and pull you in again. Truth is, giving in to the impulse is good for you and great for theater. It only strengthens your love.
Works in progress and new plays that aren’t quite right for a main stage, whether because of their size or subject matter. Older or obscure plays that have renewed relevance. One-acts, funny or fierce. These are the types of plays that can be found on second stages, which are generally smaller spaces within a larger theater or alternative spaces like studios and churches. Thank goodness for them and the daring actors, directors, writers and other theater craftsmen that alight second stages. They’re keeping the thrill alive.
Second stages “allow you to be a bit more creative,” says Kathleen Bosworth, whose one-act farce Harrogate House or Two Little Indians ’Cause the Other Eight Died, inspired by Agatha Christie mysteries, will be Backstage at Santa Paula Theater Center through Oct. 15. Bosworth adds that “Audiences know to expect something different on a second stage.” They get to see a living, breathing entity take shape. Backstage at SPTC regularly hosts new works, as well as the annual one-acts event Playzapalooza! and the First Sundays spoken word performances and staged readings.
In Oxnard, Elite Theatre Company was “designed to be a showcase for new plays,” says Artistic Director Tom Eubanks. That goes for its main stage as well as its smaller South Stage, with edgier, innovative and more intimate new works being produced on the South Stage. Those include works by playwrights from Ventura to New York, as well as plays developed through the Pachyderm Project. Eubanks explains that the name was inspired by Elite’s mascot — and the fact that in theater it pays to have a thick skin.
NAMBA, “a multidisciplinary arts lab,” is dedicated to providing a space for theater, dance, music and other arts. In November, it will present Flying H Group’s production of Blackbird. Taylor Kasch (Flying H’s artistic director and co-owner) and Jessi Mae Stevenson star in David Harrower’s tense drama about a woman confronting the man who sexually assaulted her when she was 12. NAMBA’s small, minimalist space heightens the experience by putting the audience up-close. Scary Stories, a theater/dance performance, premieres in October. Returning on the first Friday of the month is 5x5x5, “five artists, five performances, five minutes each,” hosted by John White. “There’s so much going on,” says NAMBA’s Founding Director Pamela Pilkenton. “The same groups come and develop projects here, as well as new people. Projects can start here and grow elsewhere, then come back. People can see how far they can take [a project]. It’s like a home for art.”
At the Ventura Vineyard, Fractured Actors produce established plays like Inherit the Wind, Freud’s Last Session and Arsenic and Old Lace. “Nothing like a church doing a play about two old lady killers,” laughs Fractured Actors member Bryan White, who adds, “We perform at a church but there’s no hook. We do it for the sheer joy of producing art. That’s the bottom line. Art provokes and confronts and sometimes makes you uncomfortable. It promotes thinking and conversation.” In November, Fractured Actors will present The Foreigner by Larry Shue, a comedy with timely undertones.
Second stages might be small, but they’re mighty. They allow audiences and theater companies alike to take risks, embrace the new and re-energize the old. Just what you want from a love affair.
Catch Harrogate House through Oct. 15 at Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula, 525-4645 or www.santapaulatheatercenter.org. For other second-stage performances, visit Elite Theatre Company at www.elitetheatre.org, NAMBA at nambaarts.com or Ventura Vineyard at www.venturavineyard.org.