Jonathan Rhys Williams and his Capital Stage colleagues thought moving to the company's tidy new home on J Street would "flip a switch" for the emerging professional theater company.
"We had this idea that as soon as we opened this building on J Street that all of a sudden everything would be great," Williams said.
It didn't exactly happen that way. What has happened? Strong, steady audience growth and continually expanding public awareness.
Williams co-founded Capital Stage with Stephanie Gularte and Peter Mohrmann, and he stars in the company's new production of Sam Shepard's "True West" opening Saturday night at the theater. They all hope the new production continues the theater's upward trend since they moved last fall to 2215 J St. in midtown Sacramento from the Delta King in Old Sacramento.
Capital Stage's subscriptions are over the 1,000- subscriber benchmark, an all-time high for the 6-year-old company, and two of the three plays it has presented in the new space ("Superior Donuts" and "In the Next Room") significantly overshot attendance goals.
However, Williams and the company realized it has to keep earning its success. At the end of its last show, "In the Next Room," Capital Stage was turning away customers from sold-out shows. For various scheduling reasons, it couldn't extend the popular hit. It was frustrating for the company, which has worked diligently at creating recognition.
"We're still learning as we go along," Williams acknowledged.
But he and other company leaders do have a strong sense of who they are and what they do well, particularly when it comes to staging a challenging, entertaining, sexy production such as "In the Next Room."
"Everything really fell into place: good script, great actors working on it," Williams said. "It was a perfect storm for us, along with our usual pushing the envelope and making it the best production we could. People responded to that."
Williams came to Sacramento 10 years ago, knowing only Gularte, whom he met while the two were doing "The Blue Room" at Theater on San Pedro Square in San Jose. The couple have now been married six years. Williams was just making a name for himself as an actor in the Bay Area, but he and Gularte felt Sacramento could add a professional theater company focusing on progressive work.
"We realized the only way we were going to be able to pursue that dream was by creating a company that was its own entity, and that was specifically and solely dedicated to get that work produced and created here in Sacramento," Williams said.
With Mohrmann, Williams and Gularte formed Capital Stage and began working at the Delta King, where Gularte had already been producing theater.
"In our evolution, we eventually grew out of the facility at the Delta King and realized if we want to continue to push the envelope we need to have a space that's more appropriate for the type of work we want to do," Williams said. "We started saying 'It's time to move out of Mom and Dad's and have our house, and that's what we did."
The joys of having their own home have translated into a new business model. They now have management offices to maintain and a staff person working in the box office of the hard-to-miss theater.
The company titles have evolved as well, with Gularte now the executive artistic director and Williams the producing director. Mohrmann heads up the marketing. The company has also gained great confidence in what it can do and knows what people expect.
"Because we have a really strong artistic identity we can apply that to whatever it is we do," Williams said.
"We've talked about grabbing a Shakespeare whether it was a modern interpretation of it or just to capture something in a particular piece that has the essence of what we want to say. Because it's driven by that artistic vision of who we are, we know that we would be able to execute it really well."
Williams basically oversees the technical side of Capital Stage productions.
"Everything we put on the stage, that's what I'm tending, shepherding on a day-to-day basis," Williams said. "Making sure the set gets done, making sure the lights are done, seeing all those production-type elements come together successfully."
Williams had enough construction acumen that he also supervised the building reconstruction and designed the new theater space.
Now he gets to act on the stage he built.
"I have to put in my hours as an actor 30 hours of rehearsal every week, plus whatever I have to do outside to memorize lines, that sort of thing, but I still have to make sure all the other elements are happening at the same time."
Because of their marriage, Williams and Gularte naturally see a lot of each other, but they rarely direct each other or even act together. But Gularte is directing "True West."
"It's exciting," Gularte said, "because it's not something we do very often. I have great respect for Jonathan as actor. He's one of those people who's all in. There's nothing I can ask him that he won't try."
For both, the hardest part is not taking the work home with them.
"We'll have a conversation that starts out about gardening, but by the end of it, we're talking about our next production," Williams said. "That happens to us all the time."
What: Capital Stage presents this Sam Shepard drama with Jonathan Rhys Williams, Cole Alexander Smith, Janis Stevens and Eric Baldwin. Stephanie Gularte directs.
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: Previews at 8 tonight; opens 8 p.m. Saturday; continues 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 22
Cost: $18 for tonight's preview, $38 on Saturday (opening night), regularly $20-$32
Information: (916) 995-5464, www.capstage.org