TheatreLab gets a facelift, adds after-hour shows, and the ‘Cellar Series’
I jet past the traffic on East Broad Street and make my way to the corner of Third and East Broad streets and am greeted by a grinning Deejay Gray, the artistic director and part of the team that makes up TheatreLab.
It’s easy to miss this gem come nightfall as it’s covered by a fence and a lot of ongoing construction, but once you make your way down the staircase it’s like you’ve been transported to another land with cool prop,artwork and gadgets all around and cushy, velvety red chairs. The atmosphere is definitely whimsical, warm and fun.
I recently sat down with Gray and Annie Colpitts, Managing Director of TheatreLab, and talked with them about their expansion plans, latest shows and other tricks the two have up their sleeves.
Gray said he can’t believe how far the theater company has grown in these last few years.
“We didn’t plan for any of this,” he said. “TheatreLab started in 2012, it started as a glorified internship program for another theater company.”
For the last year, the company has been hard at work expanding and renovating their space, “The Basement” which includes a new staircase, risers in the audience which were donated, a new dressing room, a flex classroom/workshop/rehearsal space, an open office area for the five- staff member team and 15 company artists along with some extra storage space.
Colpitts said they are nearly doubling the size of their 3,000 square-foot space with the renovations. Previously, the theater could once hold 50 audience members, but with the expansion they are now up to 75. The two said they expect the rest of the renovations to be completed in January.
Colpitts said they first saw their current space at the end of 2013 and signed the lease in the beginning of 2014.
“We stumbled upon this place by accident, but it was too good of an opportunity not to pursue,” she said. “It just opened up so many more possibilities.”
And those possibilities mean hosting other companies and organizations in their spruced up venue.
“Now we have space to host classes and host other peoples’ meetings and rent more space out,” said Colpitts. “This space here provided exactly what we needed, but there’s always more things we want to do.”
Gray said they’ve already had other non-profits reach out to them for a space to perform.
TheatreLab will host the Star Foster Dance Company in January and most recently, Quill Theatre used their space for their production of “American Buffalo.”
“The word is getting out slowly,” Gray said. “Having that added resource has been so exciting we’re getting to work with all these amazing groups who don’t have a space of their own.”
But TheatreLab isn’t just limiting their space to theater-oriented organizations.
“Bands, comedy, dance, not just visual and performing arts, a lot of corporations that have nothing to do with arts they look to have their board meeting or holiday party somewhere that’s not their office,” said Colpitts. “That’s how you end up expanding your audience.”
The theater company hasn’t just been busy expanding their physical space, but also making room on the bill for different types of shows.
They recently started the “Last Call at The Basement” series, all late night after-hours events of sorts.
“Last Call at the Basement will encompass a number of different things that happen after shows,” Colpitts said.
On Dec. 4, they kicked off “The B Word”, a women’s theater initiative and part of the after-hours series.
“The B Word is a women’s theater project created by women,” Gray said, adding they’ve teamed up with The Women’s Mercury for the initiative.
“That’s kind of the brainchild of Keri Wormald, a well-known director and Bridget Gethins, they create theater that’s dedicated to women,” he said. “The B word” is a series of open mic events, we’ll have drink specials for our women and each one has a different theme.”
The first one was held after the theater’s showing of “Lady Day” and was called “Glass In My Eye, Confessions Of a Woman-Hating Feminist.”
“The whole thing is about other women who have screwed them over in the work place,” Gray said.
Gray said the first show of “The B Word” was a success and the company is planning to host another one in early 2016.
“The thing that’s great about this event is that it’s entirely fueled by women’s stories, women’s experiences, and women’s talents,” he said.
Colpitts said TheatreLab has also started hosting late night lip sync battles with Lip Sync RVA.
“We’ve hosted three,” she said. “They’re always hilarious and it helps with the bar sales.”
The biggest news perhaps, is TheatreLab is introducing a “second stage series”, called “Cellar Series” that will be shorter, and run on a smaller budget. “Cellar Series” will run for about six to eight performances over two weekends featuring many local emerging artists.
“A lot of first time directors or first time designers come,” Gray said. “This kind of goes back to our very core of letting people experiment and letting people try.”
The first show in the series “9 Circles” will debut in January 14 and run until the 24th. A play by Bill Cain and directed by Joe Toscano, it follows young American soldier, Daniel E. Reeves, as he sits on trial for his life after allegedly committing crimes in Iraq.
“It’s inspired by Dante’s Inferno’s, the nine circles of hell,” Gray said. “This isn’t a brand new script, but kind of an artsy piece so it’s going to be experimental in the way that it’s produced.”
The two have three other Cellar series shows on the books as well.
Last, but certainly not least, is the company’s partnership with the Richmond Triangle Players for its LGBTQ youth outreach program “SPECTRUM” which is now in its second year.
“It’s gone from an 8-week residency to a year-long program,” Colpitts said. “It’s a safe place where youth get to work with a mentor and program directors.”
Colpitts said it’s about building a knowledge base for advocacy as well as theatre training and writing, but most importantly, providing a safe place for teens to tell their stories.
With all of these programs emerging and just coming off the success of Lady Day, TheatreLab is only headed up from here.
“We really think 2016 is going to be a big year for us. what The Basement is going to be able to do, and the way it’s going to be seen, not just as a theater venue, but as an arts venue and also just as a cool venue,” said Gray.
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