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September 21, 2006

Stage Matters

Ashland By the Sea?
Redwood Curtain Envisions Its Future


It's been almost exactly a year now since Redwood Curtain closed its last show. A compact legacy of costumes, props and scenery were hauled away from its abandoned digs in a Eureka shopping center and stored. But its current homelessness has not darkened the vision its founders have always had.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," admitted one of those founders, Peggy Metzger, in a recent conversation on the HSU campus, where she works as Associate Director in the Financial Aid department. "But right now we're in negotiations on a space we really want."redwood curtain logo

"Our vision has always been to be a professional theatre providing living wages to artists," she said, "and to be a tourist destination — to be part of that economic development world. That's one of the reasons a Eureka waterfront location would be ideal — right where redevelopment is happening."

So no surprise that this is the location of the building that Redwood Curtain hopes to soon inhabit. "It's a big building in Old Town that's been abandoned for years, that's never been a theatre," she said, and laughed. "Even though we can't say what building it is, everybody figures it out pretty quickly from that description."

If ongoing negotiations are successful (they've been proceeding for about six months), Redwood Curtain has the designs ready for the construction of a brand new theatre. But there's another key piece of the plan as well. "We've partnered up with Curley Tate, of Curley's Bar and Grill in Ferndale, who always said, 'wherever you guys end up permanently, I want to be with you.' So half of the space will be the new theatre, and half a fabulous new restaurant."

Besides the negotiations, Redwood Curtain has been active in other ways in the past year. They've ducked out from under the umbrella of the Ink People and are organizing their own non-profit. With Cassandra Hesseltine presiding, there's the new casting agency and a conservatory that's offered acting classes. But always the main attention has been on finally making the theatre vision a reality.

"We learned a lot from our last space," Metzger said. "So the playing area we've designed is basically the same — a three-quarter thrust stage — but the backstage will be very different. We've also designed it so it can be used for other events like weddings, conventions and conferences, with catering available from Curley's. We'll build a classroom and rehearsal space, so we can do events in the theatre and still rehearse and hold classes."

But perhaps the most immediate revolution in Humboldt County theatre will be the restrooms: two new ones, each accommodating four people at once.

Artistically, Redwood Curtain will maintain its niche of offering mostly contemporary plays that haven't been performed elsewhere in Humboldt before. "Fresh, thoughtful and funny, sometimes a little edgy," as Metzger described it. "Even if we would do a classic, it would be a rethinking of it. We want to produce the highest quality we can manage, using the top talent we can find, even bringing in outside talent."

"Contemporary work that excites our artists and our audience," added Clint Rebik, Redwood's Artistic Director, who joined the interview from his job in the HSU Registrar's office. "Work that we feel a connection to."

Both Metzger and Rebik travel to other theatres, always looking for ideas they can use at Redwood Curtain. But there's one particular model, or at least ideal. "Ashland has been kind of a guiding force for us," Rebik said, "because of their rural, small-town location, and what they do and how they do it, the venues, how they've grown. Of course, they have a 60-year head start on us."

But that's the nub of the vision, as Metzger described it: "Ashland by the sea." Eventually they hope to be doing two plays in repertory in the summer, "so that tourists who wouldn't come here for one play might come for two," she said, referring to Ashland's system of multi-play packages that attract visitors from up and down the coast.

Restaurants and other businesses in Ashland have adapted to serving visitors that the theatres attract, but Redwood Curtain hopes to build in part of that process with Curley's. "Imagine having a great grilled salmon dinner," Metzger said, "and when you get your bill, your theatre tickets are tucked under it, and your server tells you, 'your performance starts next door in 10 minutes.'"

Getting a good beginning on this vision may not be so very far away, either. "We're hoping for a 2007 season in our new venue," Metzger said, "four shows, beginning in spring."

(As for the actual Ashland, theatergoers have only another couple of weeks to see this year's offerings on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage: The Merry Wives of Windsor closes Oct. 6, Cyrano de Bergerac on Oct. 7, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona Oct. 8.)

Coming Attractions: Once a year Jeff DeMark reprises his first one-person show, Writing My Way Out of Adolescence, and it's happening this week on Friday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m., at the café formerly known as Muddy Waters, now under new ownership — and with a whole new look — as Muddy's Hot Cup. Tickets are $5 at the door ... North Coast Rep opens The Ladies of the Camellias on Friday as well, and Ferndale Rep begins previews of The Mystery of Irma Vep on Thursday, Sept. 28 ... HSU Dept. of Theatre, Film & Dance presents a multimedia dance performance, Journeys Before Waking, exploring the landscape of dreams, for five successive nights, Tuesday through Saturday, Sept. 26-30, with a Sunday matinee on Oct. 1. The evening performances start at the new 7:30 curtain time for HSU shows.


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