A lot of voilà!

Theater insiders talk about 2009 on stage

Sacramento Theatre Company had to delay production of <i>Noises Off </i>because of the economic downturn, but these sardines were worthwaiting for.

Sacramento Theatre Company had to delay production of Noises Off because of the economic downturn, but these sardines were worthwaiting for.

As critics, we usually see what the audience sees; only rarely do we get a glimpse behind the scenes. So SN&R turned to some local theater people for the inside scoop on the best of Sacramento’s theater scene.

Peggy Shannon, producing artistic director at the Sacramento Theatre Company, told SN&R that “more than anything, 2009 was a year of challenges.” She cited a Wallace Foundation report that found that 10 percent of all cultural organizations in the country were closing as a result of economic pressures. “We knew we could become a statistic, or we could pull together and make hard choices.”

STC chose the latter. “We downsized, streamlined operations, rethought programming, changed both administrative and board leadership, and have emerged leaner, stronger, clearer and more determined than ever to survive in this economy,” Shannon said. “In 2009, I have laughed harder, cried harder, felt despair and experienced sheer elation.”

That’s the story all over town, as most performing-arts companies tightened their belts and sang a little harder to get through the economic downturn. Artistic Differences resorted to guerrilla tactics for promotion, such as doing live song-and-dance routines during Second Saturdays in Midtown. It’s a tactic they shared with the Sacramento Ballet, which had dancers doing installation art in several galleries.

For Sandy Richard, the high point of the year was seeing a new theater company, Kookaburra Productions, get off the ground—and start with a production of her play, The Dinner, in a benefit for Marriage Equality USA. And things went so well that “we’re looking forward to our next production, Beyond Therapy, which opens in February.”

Actress Kelley Ogden (she’s also a co-founder and producer with local group KOLT Run Creations) said that the highlight of her year was playing a role she’s always coveted. It’s one she never thought she’d get, since it’s usually played by older men, but this year, Ogden was cast as The Player in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Big Idea Theatre. “I did The Player’s monologue for my college auditions—yeah, that’s how long I’ve wanted to do it! It’s a very long, long time to wait.” The play, directed by Kirk Blackinton, received a “sublime” rating from SN&R.

Another local actress picked a role as a high point: Bonnie Antonini. She was tapped to play the Queen of Outer Space in Lambda Players’ revival of Carhops in Bondage, an insane intergalactic musical farce. “Getting to dance en pointe in a voluminous white skirt and prance around in a black lace corset with black stockings and a bullwhip all in the same show” was her year’s theatrical high point, said Antonini.

For Capital Stage’s general manager Keith Riedell, “Outside of all the great stuff we do at Capital Stage, I have to say that Spring Awakening [at Broadway Sacramento] moved me in a way no other show has done for a long, long time.”

And for director Margaret Morneau from Fourth Stage, a new company, the most memorable moment says a lot about the sort of resourcefulness that STC’s Shannon described. She needed “something for my actors to sit on for The Naked Nativity, and not having any time to go find something or paint the red, white and blue box from [a previous production at the theater], my solution was a staple gun and some leftover upholstery from another show. Voilà!”

“I think theater is a lot of voilà!” she said.