PASADENA, Calif. — On a Pasadena side street called Boston Court, an art patron’s yen to “sit close enough to watch actors sweat” led to the construction of a state-of-the-art theater for a small company that aims to do things a little differently.
Facility, mission and team have come together in the adventurous Theater @ Boston Court. The young company recently world-premiered the anime-inspired epic musical “Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings,” and follows with the Oct. 13 opening of Carlos Murillo’s intensely sexual “Dark Play or Stories for Boys,” a hit at this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.
Financier Z. Clark Branson decided in 2001 to put his inheritance and investments toward what Jessica Kubzansky (co-artistic director with Michael Michetti) calls “a passion for intimate theater.” “He and (executive director) Eileen T’Kaye determined that a beautiful 99-seat facility would be preferable to an ill-equipped 250-seat one,” Michetti offers.
Architect John Sergio Fisher designed a two-story, concrete block and steel building, complete with flexible performance/rehearsal space, offices and dressing rooms. The project received a 2004 American Institute of Architects Award.
The appeal for the directors, Kubzansky explains, “was the thing we don’t get to do in our freelance careers (as helmers for hire): take risks. Other theaters have to please their subscriber base, but we have the freedom to give each play what it needs.”
Headed by exec director Eileen T’Kaye, the facility opened in 2003 with Michetti’s antebellum New Orleans-set “Romeo & Juliet,” seething with Cajun/Creole conflict, drums and voodoo.
Stefan Novinski had long been nursing a “Medea” set in a catering kitchen, while Nancy Keystone reported that Suzan-Lori Parks’ “The America Play” was “burning a hole in my gut.” Both became critical successes. Says Kubzansky: “We want the project that a director has pitched 15 times and been told, ‘That’s very interesting but we can’t do it.’ We ask, ‘What do you need to do it?’ ”
The building’s swank facilities have helped draw artists who might normally look for more established digs. “People assume we spend much more than we do,” Michetti says. “Like any nonprofit, we need donations and grants. Just because we look flush doesn’t mean we’re not out there scrounging.”
Yet even their scrounging seems luckier than most. One afternoon, helmer Novinski noticed a restaurant being broken down. “Do you want that sink?” he asked, walking off with an array of stainless steel fixtures to adorn his “Medea” set.
Besides directors’ dream revivals, Boston Court has hired a two-man literary department to seek out new work, and a play reading series has acted as a mainstage feeder. “L.A. is underrated for the kind of work we do, and should have a higher national profile than it does,” Michetti believes.
Boston Court is at a crossroads, writing a long-range strategic plan and preparing for its role in an expanding local theater scene. The company has co-hosted events with Pasadena Playhouse and anticipates the upcoming arrival of classical rep company a Noise Within (moving from neighboring Glendale) will help further boost the town’s legit community. In the meantime, Boston Court will continue testing the artistic boundaries of its theater space.
“We started in relative obscurity,” Kubzansky says. “It’s pretty thrilling that now people know us, though we’re not even in our fifth year.”