Setting the Stage
The nonprofit Theatre Lab launches with a mission to help actors bring their passion projects to fruition.
When Ryan Foizey arrived in St. Louis just over two years ago, he found himself in a welcoming and supportive theater community. Acting work soon followed, with a few roles at Stray Dog Theatre and New Line Theatre, including the title role in New Line’s “Crybaby.” As he began to pursue his true passion, directing, Foizey found that bringing a production to the stage outside of an established theater company wasn't as easy as it looked. There is networking involved, fundraising, finding rehearsal and performance space, advertising, marketing and a mélange of other intricate details.
To help others in the theater community who, like him, want to produce their own shows but don’t have the resources to go about it, Foizey began Theatre Lab this spring. The organization, which operates as a nonprofit, handles all of the production logistics to enable the actors and creative team to focus their efforts on making the best show possible. The actors split 20 percent of the box office proceeds, and the rest goes to Theatre Lab for production costs. “The complications of producing are hindering a lot of actors from doing their passion projects,” says Foizey. “Theatre Lab is a vehicle for them.”
It's part of a national trend, seen in theater hubs like New York and Chicago, which seeks to refocus resources on theater artists rather than institutions. Another such project is San Francisco's Poppy Art House, which aims to empower artists as controlling agents of their own careers through training and opportunities for self-producing actors.
Theatre Lab's first production, “Sunset Limited” by Cormac McCarthy, was an unqualified hit. Foizey says he had positive expectations of the production's success—he could see the level of work they were doing during the rehearsal process—but it really hit home on opening night when the lights went down and the audience started applauding. “I kind of got choked up,” Foizey says. “Then when the positive reviews started coming out, it transformed from just an idea into a solid, concrete thing.”
Next on Theatre Lab's agenda is a one-night fundraiser and 24-hour play festival in association with the Players Project Theater Company later this month. Foizey has enlisted five strong playwrights, including Deanna Jent, whose “Falling” recently had an off-Broadway run in NYC, and LA writer Spencer Green, who wrote the book for “Bukowsical” (recently produced at New Line). The setting, director and actors are all divvied up by drawing names from a hat and are given 24 hours to rehearse before the performance the following evening.
Theatre Lab's 24-Hour Play Festival will be presented at 8pm on Nov. 23 at Webster Groves High School. Admission is $10 at the door or online at brownpapertickets.com. For more information, find Theatre Lab on Facebook or call 314.599.3309.
Photo credit: photo by John Lamb