NASHVILLE: How do you get a cast with ages ranging from 3 to 20 years old to work and play well together? According to Cori Anne Laemmel, a co-founder of the Theater Bug, where The Most Amazing Anything of Evertime runs July 10–27, a “family dynamic” sets in.
“It’s hard when kids are in school with kids their own age all day,” says Laemmel, who founded the company in 2010. “Here, the little ones strive to be better because the big ones are there—the older ones become mentors for the younger ones.”
Laemmel has produced only original works at the theatre’s East Nashville storefront space (which her husband built, she says, by “looking up ‘how to build a theatre’ on YouTube”). The Most Amazing Anything was the company’s inaugural production, though initially it was just a play; this time around it has music by co-writer Eric Fritsch, a parent who got involved with the company early on. Indeed, given the troupe’s Music City locale, there has been no shortage of talent on hand. “We had the most A-list Nashville band playing our children’s musical,” Laemmel recalls of Oddly Puddle Is from Inner Space, staged earlier this year. “Everybody here is just so good at what they do.”
That includes collaborators on a different level: One Theater Bug production each year is a commission/partnership with a social service organization. Oddly Puddle, which addressed issues of autism and cognitive ability,was a partnership with the Special Education Advocacy Center, while last year’s The Barefoot Children in the City of Ward, about children with long-term illnesses, was co-sponsored by Gilda’s Club, the cancer advocacy organization. These are heady topics for a kids’ theatre, but Laemmel says, “We’re theatre that’s a little more than dancing spoons. I think people underestimate how brilliant and talented kids are—if you give them something they can really sink their teeth into, and tell a story that’s meaningful to them,
they really respond.” Or catch the bug. Visit www.thetheaterbug.org.
CHICAGO and NEW YORK CITY: Storefront theatre and Chicago go together like deep dish and pizza, but lest you think the tradition had faded into mere cultural branding, along comes news that the Den Theatre, which operates five performance spaces in the second story of a building in Wicker Park, will expand into the abandoned clothing store on the building’s ground floor. The Den will welcome Windy City mainstays The Hypocrites as the 6,000-square-foot, 200-seat venue’s resident company.
Hypocrites managing director Megan Wildebour says that while the company is “extremely grateful and fond of our longtime residence at the Chopin Theater, we knew we had outgrown the lovely basement studio.” She says she had “passed that empty clothing store at 1329 N. Milwaukee and daydreamed about turning it into a huge black box theatre.” The Den’s artistic director, Ryan Martin, had been thinking the same thing—the new space, which was made possible by funding from local philanthropists Michael Heath and Mona Heath, kicks off auspiciously in August with Sean Graney’s All Our Tragic, a 12-hour adaptation of all 32 surviving Greek tragedies.
Meanwhile, in downtown Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood, the Sheen Center, a building owned by the Catholic archdioecese that has in the past served immigrants and the homeless population, has been converted into a new arts center with two theatres, the Loretto and the Black Box, as well as four studio spaces. It’s been hosting play readings so far, and will likely be a key site for the New York International Fringe Festival in the late summer. The executive director, Monsignor Michael F. Hull, invokes Plato in saying that the center will be dedicated to highlighting “the true, the good and the beautiful.” But there doesn’t seem to be a restriction on content staged there, under artistic director Jessica Bashline: In May and June, a series of readings in the Black Box called “quick and dirties” featured new work by playwrights Sarah Sander, Eric Dufault, Martyna Majok and Joshua Conkel. Go to www.thedentheatre.com, www.the-hypocrites.com, www.sheencenter.org.
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