Space 55: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Performing Art

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2013 Finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 27, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: Space 55

"We're like a home for wayward artists," says Shawna Franks, cofounder of Space 55 Theatre, the tiny, off-beat playhouse that's lately been taking downtown Phoenix by storm.

The nonprofit all-volunteer company operates less like a conventional theater than a theater cooperative, offering late-night and series productions created and produced by a revolving cast of actors, writers, and directors.

See also: - Announcing the 2013 Big Brain Finalists - Meet New Times' 2013 Big Brain Finalists and Celebrate the Winners at Artopia on April 27

Opening a theater, Franks says, was not part of her plan when she moved here from Chicago in 2005. "I didn't know anyone in town," she recalls, "but I'm a theater person, so I started to invite actors to my house for dinner. Actors are usually hungry, so I figured if I promised to feed them, they'd come. We read plays together, and we ended up liking one another, and it became a theater company."

The company, officially founded in 2006, took its time finding its proper audience. "When we first opened, people would walk in and say, 'Oh, take me back to Scottsdale!' But eventually, the people who love a writers' theater, and who really want to see original and contemporary work, were showing up and saying, 'Oh, this is just the thing I've been looking for!'"

That's been Space 55's agenda from the start, Franks says. "If we've been successful -- and sometimes I don't know where we find the funds to go on, but we always do -- it's because we're offering the kind of theater that wasn't here before." That includes the company's popular Second Friday comedy series, and its signature Seven Minutes in Heaven program, which finds performers of all stripes taking the stage to present seven minutes of entertainment. Sometimes, Franks admits, those seven minutes aren't strictly heavenly.

"Occasionally, it can be just awful," she says, laughing. "But often, there's real brilliance up on stage. There are so many bizarre performers here, that's part of why I created that series -- to give them a place to shine."

Franks insists that Space 55's success has little to do with her, yet she admits she keeps her hand in every facet of the business.

"I do everything!" she says. "But the artists who work here have really taken ownership of the work, and it shows. We've got a place now where everyone can find their own vision, including the audience that has found us, acting and writing our hearts out down here."

Buy a $10 ticket to enjoy an evening of food, drink and entertainment April 27 at the Monarch Theatre in downtown Phoenix. Meet the finalists and learn who won during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia.

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