B y J a n a R i v e r a
IT MAY BE down, but don't count it out. Since the end of April, the tiny space at 125 E. Congress St., home to Tucson's tenacious and often defiant a.k.a. Theatre Company, has remained dark.
After a public announcement of debt and mismanagement, a not-so-public grapevine flinging accusations at the company's leaders, and an only marginally successful fund-raising campaign, many of us thought we'd seen the last production at a.k.a. when Marvin's Room closed in late April. Add to that the board's decision to fire Technical Director Grayson Norris and put Artistic Director Meg Nolan on administrative leave, and you have a company that seemed to have deteriorated beyond repair.
Not so. After a short reprieve, a.k.a. has reorganized, revitalized and reopened. The board has placed Noel Chester in what has been the musical chair position at a.k.a.--managing director. Chester, who worked with Nolan at a.k.a. in the early years, returned to Tucson from San Francisco where she was most recently the co-founder of Diggin Hole Productions Theatre Company.
Two new members have joined the a.k.a. board, Jack McReynolds, a former managing director, and Gary Sabbag, a local playwright. Michael Sgambellone has replaced Norris as technical director, and Ben Priam has been added to take care of publicity.
Through continuing fund-raising efforts, the board and staff are attempting to stabilize the still shaky financial picture. In March, a.k.a. reported a debt of about $15,000. Board President Neal Eckel reports that fund-raising efforts generated about $6,000, which, combined with the proceeds from Marvin's Room, alleviated a good portion of the debt.
"We have also increased our seating capacity by 20 percent and raised our ticket prices by about 20 percent," Chester said. "General admission is now $9, which still undercuts any seasonal theatre in town, and discounted tickets are $7."
However, because a.k.a. has always considered itself a venue for first-time theatergoers and students, it will offer a free preview at the beginning of each run.
"It's a good way to start things out and make it available for people who can't afford it," Chester said.
Chester believes a.k.a. needs the support of the community to survive, and she is making plans to gain and keep that support. When not in use by a.k.a., she hopes to offer the downtown theatre space to artists or cultural groups to conduct workshops and other community activities. And she talks of creating an advisory board to facilitate community outreach.
Meg Nolan, the guts and heart of a.k.a., stills holds the title of artistic director of the company she founded in 1987, but she's been completely out of the picture since early April when she was put on administrative leave by the board of directors citing "burn-out." In the interim, Chester and Sgambellone have jointly performed her duties.
At this point Nolan's return seems uncertain. According to Eckel, she'll be gone for another couple of months and then...Who knows.
"The whole idea was for her to get some time off and some distance," Eckel said. "Whether that works, we'll have to see. We're hoping it does."
What does seem certain, however, is that those now involved are pressing on without Nolan. Can a.k.a. survive without her? Probably. But will it be the same hard-hitting, plucky theatre company of the past? We'll see.
a.k.a. Theatre Company's Down the Road, a chilling commentary on the impact of violence in our society, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lee Blessing, continues with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 3 p.m Sunday through July 9. As part of their fund-raising efforts, a.k.a. presents an afternoon of theatre on June 11, including brunch at Café Magritte, followed by the performance and an informal discussion with the cast. Tickets for this event only are $30 per person or $50 per couple. Call 623-7852 for reservations and information.
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