Lambda Players at home

“It’s so good to be home!” A not-so-angry Hedwig poses for the Lambda Players’ most popular production to date.

“It’s so good to be home!” A not-so-angry Hedwig poses for the Lambda Players’ most popular production to date.

In January 2005, the Lambda Players made a bold move. After more than a decade of staging gay-themed shows as an itinerant theater company, Lambda took the plunge and signed a three-year lease on a storefront space on 17th Street, a few steps north of Broadway. Since then, the Lambda Players have established a little 49-seat theater featuring shows almost every weekend.

It was a gutsy move, both financially and artistically. Lambda long has operated on a shoestring budget, and it still does. Having a “home” means making regular lease payments. In the process of settling down, Lambda more than doubled the number of shows it stages to upwards of eight productions per year. That represents a major commitment of resources for the all-volunteer organization.

Nearly 12 months on, the big move seems to be paying off. There have been a few bumps and snafus along the way, but Lambda has gained visibility and welcomed more subscribers (and more donations) than in past years. The group also has attracted a growing number of straight ticket-buyers.

“The initial challenge was getting people to realize that we have our own space,” artistic director Matthew Burlingame told SN&R. “But our real struggle [after the move] was that it’s continuous.” The company mounts a new show every five or six weeks. “We’re doing shows back to back, so if one of us needs a break, then everybody else comes in and fills in,” Burlingame said.

Many community-based theater groups like Lambda go dormant between June and September. But last summer, Lambda took another chance by fielding a series of shows collectively known as Hot Summer Nights. The shows confronted issues like AIDS and fundamentalist Christianity more directly than some past Lambda productions, and they also featured abundant male nudity.

The summer series drew capacity audiences on many evenings. Lambda followed up with a very popular production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Perhaps the show’s success was a carry-over effect from people who’d seen the movie, or maybe Lambda had reached a threshold of visibility. “Having your own theater adds legitimacy,” Burlingame observed. Whatever the reason, Hedwig did extremely well at the box office.

“It was just amazing. Except for one Sunday performance, every night was a full night. We even extended the run,” Burlingame said.

Tom Swanner, president of Lambda Players, added, “When we did Hedwig, more than 50 percent of the audience had never been to a Lambda production before. And I’d say that probably most of them were straight people, and that’s great. We’ve been seeing some of them come to the two shows we’ve done since Hedwig.”

“They’ve seen that we do good theater, and that’s what they want to see,” said Burlingame.

Hedwig was followed by seasonal shows: a Halloween production called Countess Dracula and a Christmas show called 1 Christmas Carol in 10, which is a variation on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “It revolves around Scrooge having to come out of the closet, and that’s why he’s so bitter after all these years. He’s gay and afraid to admit it,” Burlingame said. “It’s another show that’s been almost continuously sold out,” he added.

An original play by Burlingame, Written on the Hill, will open on January 6. “It’s already in rehearsals,” he said. “It’s a sort of cross between Gods and Monsters and Deathtrap, with lots of twists and turns, and a surprise ending.”

In February and March, Lambda will stage a show about marriage called I Do/I Don’t, and in April it will feature Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This American classic doesn’t have specifically gay content but was written by gay playwright Edward Albee.

The Hot Summer Nights series resumes in May with Take Me Out, a play about a prominent baseball star who signs a $100 million contract and then tells the media he is gay. Take Me Out was successfully staged in New York, on Broadway, in 2003. This will be its first Sacramento production.

The Lambda Players Theatre is located at 2427 17th Street. Information about upcoming productions is available at Tickets can be reserved online or by calling (916) 444-8229.