OAKLAND, CALIF.: Anthropologist Margaret Mead is often quoted as having said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Theatre practitioners in Oakland are putting Mead’s notion to work. Lisa Drostova, public engagement manager for Ragged Wing Ensemble, and assorted friends and colleagues have spearheaded the Flight Deck, a multidisciplinary arts space in the heart of downtown Oakland, which opens in June. The 99-seat theatre will host performances from five resident companies, including Drostova’s own Ragged Wing, along with Aluminous Collective, Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre, Virago Theatre and Dana Lawton Dances.
“Nobody else is doing anything remotely like this in Oakland, and even the Berkeley houses only have one company each,” Drostova says. “We will be changing the face of Bay Area theatre, and we’re trying to do it in a responsible way that respects and enhances the community within which we work and live.” To that end, Flight Deck plans to operate on a share model and hold collaboration as a core value. “We believe that the practice of true ensemble and collaborative creation is a radical action, having positive social repercussions beyond the rehearsal room, and we aim to bring this ethic into the launching of the Flight Deck,” says Drostova. “We want to create a sense of place, grow ever-widening circles of collaboration and catalyze a more connected community.” Visit www.theflightdeck.org.
LOS ANGELES: Actors, directors and playwrights stream into this industry town each year to make their mark on film or television, only to discover that there’s a thriving if underappreciated theatre scene on hand as well. A lot of these new arrivals respond by forming their own theatre companies, as many of them hail from such entrepreneurial theatre-making cities as Chicago or Seattle. But why not a company from another great stage capital a little farther afield? That’s part of the thinking behind the new Australian Theatre Company, a six-member ensemble that kicks off with the American premiere of Tommy Murphy’s play Holding the Man at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood on May 10.
Recalls co-founder Nate Jones, who’s been Stateside for two years, it was a challenge thrown down by L.A.-based acting coach Larry Moss, during a class Jones was auditing, that spurred the company’s creation. “He said, ‘Don’t forget to always come back to the theatre. What’s stopping you from starting your own company?’ I thought to myself, What is stopping me?” Moss, who, coincidentally, has traveled to Australia to offer a popular acting workshop, will direct ATC’s debut production.
The other impetus behind the new company is Murphy’s play itself. Man broke box-office records in its 2006 premiere in Sydney, has played almost constantly in Australia ever since, and a film version directed by Neil Armfeld is in the works. Based on the best-selling memoir by actor and activist Timothy Conigrave, the play is “not just another gay play, not just another play about AIDS. It’s about two people who happen to be in love.”
If Americans seem to be in love with Australian actors, Jones—who co-founded the company with Nick Hardcastle—offers one theory why they’re popular with collaborators, too: “We have a really great work ethic. We do the job and go home. We don’t tend to be blinded by fame and fortune.” Insert joke about theatrical poverty here.