A community production
The new Alliance of Chico-area Theatres— ACT—seeks to solidify Chico’s theater identity
Chico State English professor and Blue Room board member Steve Metzger is a frequent contributor to the arts section of the N&R, so there is much communication with him about reviews he’s writing. But each conversation inevitably also revolves around other things happening in town, such as some incredible guitar his buddy is building by hand, or the amazing band he just saw or, most recently, the newly formed Alliance of Chico-area Theatres (ACT) he’s spearheading.
“I love alliances,” Metzger confessed during a recent breakfast meeting of ACT at the Brunch House in the Almond Orchard Shopping Center. All Butte County theater groups are represented in the group, and this morning, in addition to Metzger, the booth is filled by Chico Theater Company’s managing director, Marc Edson, Chico Cabaret’s Phil Ruttenburg, the Blue Room’s artistic director, Joe Hilsee, and the Butte College Theater Department’s Barry Piccinino. (Paradise’s Theatre on the Ridge, Chico State’s Theatre Arts program and Shakespeare in the Park’s Ensemble Theater of Chico are also members, but representatives weren’t present for this meeting.)
“I was aware of all these [theaters],” Metzger explained, “and I loved going to all of them.” He noticed, however, that while each venue had its crowd of loyal followers they weren’t necessarily aware of what was going on at the others. With the intention of “opening up these loyalties” and turning people on to the breadth of quality theater in the county, Metzger first approached Ruttenburg about the idea.
“I talked to Phil in December, and he was ‘all about’ it.”
Inspired by and modeled after the North Bay Theatre Group, an alliance of more than two dozen theaters in the five counties north of San Francisco, the alliance has so far provided links to every theater on each group’s individual Web site and is in the beginning stages of a campaign to market Chico as a theater destination for tourists in much the same way Ashland, Ore., currently is.
The Blue Room’s Hilsee pointed out that ACT fits right into the spirit of the Chico Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to market Chico as an arts destination, and that the chamber is “very supportive of what we’re doing,” adding that, in terms of locally made arts, “leading the pack are the theaters. … It’s part of our identity.”
Watching the group of theater folks interact, it seems impossible they haven’t been working together all along. Ideas float around the table, as stories of past and future productions and the general ins and outs of keeping a theater running flow easily (e.g., “We’re doing The Raven.” “I think we had problems with the sound [when we did that].")
Inspiration also flows, like the idea of working on thematic festivals, in which all theaters would do works by a certain playwright or within some theme, such as Robin Hood and other related possibilities during the Bidwell Park Centennial in 2005. It’s intriguing to imagine what each company could come up with under the umbrella of its individual specialty.
The Chico Theater Company’s Edson (who joked, “First we had to decide who’s the better theater") is opening his space on Oct. 3 for the first of what will be a rotating annual showcase/ fundraiser for the alliance. The showcase will bring all theaters onto one stage to do short previews of each company’s upcoming productions.
“The best thing, personally, for me, is getting to know all these guys,” Edson added.
His comment speaks to the spirit behind the endeavor. It also bodes well for the effective implementation of ACT’s stated goal to “promote live theater of all kinds—from traditional musicals and children’s theater to cutting-edge drama—throughout the Chico area."