by Phil Gravitt
SONOMA COUNTY, CA – “Starting a theater company is about fulfilling your artistic soul,” says Chris Ginesi, co-founder of Narrow Way Stage Company. “It is about that one thing inside you that you need to get out. It is about breaking some rules and finding a niche, and creating a home with integrity for young artists, a safe place for them to be vulnerable and to throw it out on the stage. Giving people a chance to experience a show they might not see anywhere else.”
Ginesi and co-founder Nick Christensen launched Narrow Way in 2005, and have advice for others aspiring to start their own theater company.
Ginesi recommends, “Even if you [have to] spend several years as a nomad company with no space of your own, starting with good backing in the community helps you succeed as a legitimate theater company. Find people in the community who will help you move forward. It is important to know who your artistic family is — people who believe in you.”
“You also need publicity,” he quickly ads, “Get yourself out there, so people know what you’re doing. Find new ways to publicize your company, like MySpace.”
To get the word out on the streets about Narrow Way, the company’s actors handed out flyers at the farmers market and acted out scenes at the mall from their version of Julius Caesar, while tossing flyers from the top of the stairs. In addition to producing plays, another way to get people interested and involved in a new theater group is through benefit shows and improv performances. Ginesi suggests, “Word of mouth works. After a while, when you hold auditions or have shows, you will have name recognition.”
A theater company consisting of all young actors has specific challenges to overcome, and runs the risk, for instance that the community might not take them seriously and have a false sense, as Ginesi says, “that they are [just a bunch] of twenty years olds with money to put on a play. By demonstrating a sincere respect for acting and the stage, and by consistently choosing incredible material and producing high quality work, people will know you are real.”
“Yes,” Christiansen agrees, “It is important to make sure the people you are working with are about the same thing you are. Starting a theater company is bigger than just the roles you want to play. Everyone needs to have the same vision and commitment to success. Collaborating with other theater groups is also mutually beneficial, helping each group reach an audience that neither can get to alone.”
Helpful, too, is to have an organizational structure in place from the get-go, to prevent chaos from ensuing as the company grows. Christiansen matter-of-factly reveals, “Members of the group also need to understand the hierarchy of the company. People need to know who is boss, and what their job is.”
While particular challenges do exist for groups of young actors, the high-level of energy they have to offer is a definite advantage. Christiansen describes the time commitment and dedication of the Narrow Way actors this way, “We gain a lot from working long hard hours. We come to work to work, sometimes late into the night. We can do two hours of rehearsal, break for dinner, and then do two to three hours of rehearsal for a different show.”
To anyone contemplating starting a new theater company, Christiansen offers this advice, “Lots of people want to direct. People are always reading new plays and looking at new works. It is a collaborative effort to make plays come to life. Do what is challenging and challenge audiences, and fulfill the idea of what theater is for, not [just to] to ‘people please’ the audience.”
As a last bit and perhaps the most important piece of advice of all, Christiansen encourages, “Go for it. Live your dream. You are taking a risk, but you won’t be hurt in the end if you go for what is true to you. You have no idea until you go out there and try.”
Information on Narrow Way Stage Company can be found at www.NarrowWayStage.com.
Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.