Behind the scenes

Trimmed productions, squeezing by and some great upcoming shows

The local theater scene contracted a little bit more last week, with the Sacramento Theater Company announcing a restructuring of its new series of small productions on the company’s Pollock Stage.

A New Works Festival, originally scheduled to feature productions of three new plays running in repertory from mid-January into early February, has been consolidated into three staged readings. The readings will be free to the public, and will be held on January 16, at 8 p.m. (Black Pearl Sings by Frank Higgins); January 17, at 8 p.m. (Brownie Points by Janece Shaffer); and January 18 at 2 p.m. (Beat Aside Apollo’s Arrow by veteran STC performer Matt K. Miller).

In addition, the March-April production of The Illustrated Bradbury, a one-man show by Tobias Andersen, has been rescheduled for next fall.

Slow ticket sales for the October and December productions on the Pollock Stage prompted the change. “It is important for any arts organization to be extremely prudent” during the current economic downturn, said STC managing director Mark Standriff. “The New Works Festival is such an unknown quantity that we felt taking a proactive approach toward reducing production costs without totally eliminating these exciting new plays was the best option for STC. The staged readings will allow us to get important artistic feedback without breaking the bank, while pushing back the Bradbury piece into next season gives us some breathing room to be able to present the show with the resources and the work our audiences deserve.”

STC’s move comes after December’s announcement by Foothill Theatre that they will stage a three-show “demi-season” in 2009. (Foothill, which experienced a financial crisis during late summer and fall, staged seven shows in 2008).

The Sacramento Ballet, which experienced lagging ticket sales for The Nutcracker during early December, reported that ticket sales picked up during the last 10 days of the show’s run. Executive director Kerri Warner told SN&R that there was also an encouraging response to Sac Ballet’s plea for donations. Sac Ballet’s board was scheduled to meet in early January to evaluate the company’s post-Nutcracker financial situation and planned performances.

Further afield, the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival did better than expected with its do-or-die one-week fund drive. The festival set a goal of $300,000—and by December 22, $416,417 was pledged (from a total of 2,050 donors).

Now that the holiday shows have closed, it’s time to look ahead to several promising productions that we’re looking forward to reviewing in the next few weeks.

Capital Stage is doing The Scene, a sharply written comedy involving sex and show biz, with characters including an out-of-work New York actor, his wife and a fresh-faced ingénue (just off the bus from Ohio). Previews start January 17; the opening is January 23, the show closes February 22;

The Sacramento Theatre Company rolls out Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson, the first installment of a decade-long project, aiming to produce all 10 plays in Wilson’s highly regarded Pittsburgh Cycle. Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904 against a background of labor unrest at a nearby mill. The aftermath of slavery and the movement of black families from the rural South to the urban, industrial North also figures in the story, which is dominated by the reclusive (but fiery) 285-year-old Aunt Ester (to be played by local actress Lisa Lacy, an expert at bringing strong women to life onstage). Previews start January 21; the opening is January 24, the show closes February 15;

The B Street Theatre hosts Margaret Edson’s Wit, a script that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999. Featured will be B Street veteran Julia Brothers (who’s been away for a while) as Vivian Bearing, a 50-year-old professor of 17th-century poetry diagnosed with stage IV metastatic ovarian cancer. Brothers, who looks compelling with a shaved head, has gotten good notices in this role elsewhere, and we’ve long hoped to see her do this part in Sacramento. Actually, a local Actors’ Equity production of Wit is long overdue (UC Davis staged a small production several years back). The show begins previews on January 22, the opening is January 24 and the show closes on February 28;

Racial politics also come to the mid-winter stage when City Theatre’s production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus opens January 16. Parks’ play concerns the “Hottentot Venus,” a young African woman brought to London in 1810, where she was exploited due to her race and physique, and runs through February 1; Celebration Arts will stage Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi Is Dead. Set in apartheid South Africa, the play examines the nature of identity, particularly when circumscribed by the necessity of government documentation, and will run from January 30 to March 7;