It’s hard to make professional theater work in Tacoma. Tacoma Actors Guild died in 2007 after years of struggle, and since then a couple of others have popped up and disappeared.
But Jen Tidwell intends to make it happen. Having worked for two years to build up connections, the director is launching Tacoma Actors Repertory Theater next week with a free reading Wednesday at B Sharp Coffee downtown. The reading will feature Seattle actors Aneesh Sheth and Richard Arum in Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Three Viewings.” What Tidwell’s still working on: a permanent venue (with help from Spaceworks), a board of directors and more funding.
“Tacoma seems to be missing professional theater,” said Tidwell, who moved here in 2010 from Nevada, where she ran a small professional company until the recession hit. “There’s a lot of high-quality community theater (but not professional). So I decided to launch one.”
The daughter of two professional actors, Tidwell’s own background is in classical theater, having worked at A Noise Within in Pasadena. Since moving to Tacoma, she’s worked a day job as a lighting specialist in Seattle. She’s also auditioned for Seattle shows but got tired of the late-night commute. And having recently beaten cancer, she knew she had to get back into theater.
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“I realized I can’t be away from what makes my heart beat,” she says.
Pulling in her Seattle actor friends, Tidwell has organized a core company that will rotate shows in the traditional repertory style: rotating two small-cast shows at a time in the same space to challenge cast and crew and offer something new to audiences. The first season will begin in September, when Tidwell hopes to have found and adapted a suitable 99-seat space through the city of Tacoma’s Spaceworks program. She’s also recruiting a board of directors and is about to launch an online fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.com to supplement existing grants and sponsors.
Meanwhile, TART is launching Wednesday with a free preview reading by Sheth from NBC’s “Outsourced” and Gregory Award-nominated Arum. They’ll read two of the three monologues from Hatcher’s “Three Viewings,” a tale of a small Pennsylvania town seen through the lens of three funerals. Arum, recently acclaimed for his work at Book-It Theater, plays a funeral director who falls in love with a realtor. Sheth, recently seen at Village Theater, plays the bohemian Mac, who supports her lifestyle by looting jewelry from the deceased. “Three Viewings” will kick off the first season alongside the comedy “Title of Show.” Other works in the pipeline include Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and a farcical version of it; new work “She Kills Monsters,” This is Our Youth” and “The Chairs.”
Tidwell will hold auditions during the summer and intends to keep the company professional by paying equal to professional wages.
“I’m seeking out the best,” she says. “I’ve found that works incredibly well. Actors have to pay off student loans, just like doctors.”