Scape Goat

Innovation takes a dirt nap -- again

We've lost another one. Last month, the folks at TheatreScape announced that they're pulling the plug on the rest of their season and on the troupe itself. Small companies like TheatreScape come and go all the time, but the ones that put together shows as worthy as this company's often were usually make it through a couple of seasons before combusting. Not always. And not TheatreScape. It has, as Christopher Mascarelli says, "disappeared into the shit bucket of theater."

Mascarelli has reason to be bitter. He's the former artistic director of TheatreScape, which disintegrated after staging several estimable productions (specifically its official debut, a tremendous version of Eleemosynary) and one huge stink bomb (Did anyone but me see its production of The Elephant Man? No? Good.) last year. Mascarelli says that "internal strife" (read: the petty clash of monster egos) is what most often annihilates small troupes, followed by a nearly nonexistent cash flow, because while locals will line up for hours to watch Phoenix Sun Steve Nash cut the ribbon on a new Walgreens, they apparently won't go watch a revival of Steel Magnolias on a bet.

Whenever one of these small, eccentric theaters collapses, I always think the same thing: Why them? Why can't Tempe Little Theater go under? They never stage anything interesting, yet their doors remain wide open. How about Desert Foothills Theater? This season alone they're doing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Fame, for Christ's sake -- why can't they go out of business?

If there were a theater god, she'd let us swap the demise of interesting theater companies for potentially dull ones before they ever opened their doors. I'd be willing to trade up-and-coming Desert Rose Theatre if we could have TheatreScape back. Desert Rose is opening its new season with Romeo and Juliet, making it one of five theaters this season (and the third in two months) to glom on to this ancient ruin. Which suggests that it won't be long before these guys are doing Fiddler on the Roof and Forever Plaid -- a scary thought.

Scarier still is the fact that Nearly Naked Theatre, the finest of our avant-garde theaters, is reportedly gearing up for 501c3 nonprofit status and assembling a board of directors who will probably want to weigh in on what Nearly Naked produces down the road. We've seen what input from a board of directors can do: Actors Theatre, a professional company that routinely presents bold material, has reportedly been pressured in the past into pushing dreck out onto its stage (Remember last year's Carole King musical? No? Good.) by a board busy looking after the company's bottom line. Now Actors Theatre is on the dole, shilling for donations even though it's a professional, for-profit Equity house.

As I see it, the solution to both Actors Theatre's financial woes and reducing the surplus of cruddy retreads is simple: Smaller theaters could forgo one rerun per season -- excising, say, a West Side Story or an Arsenic and Old Lace from their schedules -- and donate the money they'd have wasted on another rerun to a troubled troupe struggling to mount something new and more thought-provoking. I suggested this to Mascarelli when I interviewed him recently, and I'm guessing that, wherever he is today -- wherever disappointed artistic directors go after their theaters collapse -- he's still laughing.

 
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