2019: Good Year for Small Theatre Companies

Cast of Puffs. Photos courtesy of Adriana Zuniga-Williams.

When I was younger, I generally saw musicals and plays in San Diego at The Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre and San Diego Civic Theatre. My, how times have changed!

Big theatre organizations are still alive and doing well, but many smaller companies in San Diego produced significant productions in 2019.

Great theatre was created in smaller venues all over the county, from the LGBT-focused theatre in University Heights, Diversionary Theatre, to New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. Positive reviews and word of mouth have helped these companies build loyal audiences.

For this article, I am singling out three companies that put on notable productions in 2019.

The Eastern, a semi-professional theatre company, produced a comedy inspired by the “Harry Potter” franchise, in association with the well-established PowPac, Poway’s Community Theatre, Puffs, Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School for Magic and Magic. Not only did the production feature a hilarious cast, but The Eastern’s Managing Artistic Director, Justin Allen Slagle, and his crew made a lot of creative choices to visually tell the story.

Hopefully, Puffs is the beginning of many great things for the company.

The inaugural production from Loud Fridge Theatre Group at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center’s Forum Stage, Straight, occurred over the summer.

Artistic Director, John W. Wells III, gave a sympathetic and subtle performance as a “heterosexual” man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. In an interview for Talk Theatre to Me, Wells said that Loud Fridge “aims to be a constant noise in the community, telling stories that are bold, honest and diverse- and telling it LOUDLY!” If Loud Fridge continues to present tales like Straight, his goal for the company will easily be fulfilled.

The third company worth mentioning is New Match Collective, which focuses on shows with womxn and gender queer performers. While New Match formed in 2015, it gained more attention in 2019.

Founded by CEO and Artistic Director, Alyssa Salter, New Match put on two historical William Shakespeare plays, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Future events from New Match include “fete noire: A Festival Celebrating Black Culture Across the African Diaspora,” and a series of alcohol-friendly condensed Shakespeare plays at Amplified Ale Works in East Village, “Boozin’ with the Bard.”

Besides semi-professional and professional theatre companies, community theatre continues to flourish. Lamplighters Community Theatre, the Coronado Playhouse and OB Playhouse & Theatre Company all produced high-quality narratives with standout ensembles.

Cast of Nine.

Ones that were impressively staged were Nine at Lamplighters, The Old Man and the Old Moon at the Coronado Playhouse and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead and American Idiot at the OB Playhouse.

Unfortunately, not all the 2019 news about small theatre companies was positive. The wonderful Ion Theatre in Hillcrest, officially, and abruptly, closed last April. That’s a shame, because the company was producing memorably intense work for more than a decade, including Ion’s immersive staging of Cabaret, which was the final production at the Hillcrest space.

Despite Ion’s demise, other groups are taking a more aggressive stance for 2020. Theatres known for acclaimed work, like the feminist company, Moxie Theatre, OnStage Playhouse and Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company all announced upcoming narratives that will likely be entertaining and intelligent.

With the beginning of a new decade right around the corner, I am looking forward to seeing plays and musicals from companies of all shapes and sizes.

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