The New Helvetia Theatre will waste no time breaking in its new home at the Studio Theatre.
The young professional theater company stages its first Sacramento New Works Festival starting Thursday, less than a month into taking over the cozy, 89-seat space at 10th and R streets.
For artistic director Connor Mickiewicz, signing the three-year lease was a huge step in NHT's evolution.
"It's a great location and it was time for us to have a space of our own," Mickiewicz said. The company, which formed in January 2009, had been performing in the Artisan Theatre on Del Paso Boulevard before producing its most recent show Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" at the 24th Street Theatre. Lack of a permanent space, though, had kept NHT from completely enacting its artistic agenda.
"We can do so many more shows now, and other types of programming, as well," Mickiewicz said.
"We can get up to seven shows a year if we want, and have a full season. Also, we now have real visibility."
To capitalize, Mickiewicz and new associate producer Matthew Schneider are putting together the Sacramento New Works Festival, which entails two free performances of two plays they have been workshopping for the past two weeks.
The plays are "One Good Day," with book and lyrics by Elizabeth Suggs and music by Rona Siddiqui, with Mickiewicz directing, and "Schooled," written by Lisa Lewis with Schneider directing. They call the rehearsal process the Eureka Project, a developmental theater lab that cultivates original works for the stage, and expect it will be a signature component of New Helvetia.
Schneider and Mickiewicz met when they attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Schneider said the developmental Eureka Project, and the New Works Festival (free workshop productions) are designed as complementary elements.
"Right now we're bringing in playwrights to Sacramento and we're giving them rehearsal space, actors and directors," Schneider said.
"We're all going to get in there, rehearse every day, write, revise, write, revise, and develop the work."
Schneider brings both managerial and artistic abilities to New Helvetia, and sees his role as support to Mickiewicz's leadership.
"One of Connor's strongest attributes is strength and clarity of vision," Schneider said. "He knows what he wants and he knows how he wants it done. I hope to provide the assistance, resources and management for those things."
The cast for the musical "One Good Day," includes several longtime Mickiewicz creative colleagues Jerry Lee, Nanci Zoppi, Tristan Rumery, Kiera Anderson and Lauren Parker, with Graham Sobelman providing the musical direction.
The cast for "Schooled" includes the highly regarded Michael Stevenson and Melissa WolfKlain, who performed in "Forbidden Broadway" at the Cosmo Cabaret and just finished "Grease" at Music Circus.
With New Helvetia settling in at the Studio Theatre space, R Street boasts a varied night life district with nearby businesses the Fox & Goose, the Shady Lady, Magpie Cafe and Old Ironsides, among others, within easy walking distance.
"It's been really satisfying going to all the different businesses up and down R Street and introducing ourselves and starting to build friendships with them, and talk about where R Street is going," Mickiewicz said.
"We're all trying to do something. There's a unity, and they have a specific identity that I think we fit well into."
NHT got started doing smallish, edgy musicals such as "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" which Schneider directed, "(title of show)," and "Little Fish." Mickiewicz said they'll continue doing that type of work, but also will slot nonmusicals into the schedule. Next Sunday, during a fundraising event at the new space, NHT will announce its 2012-13 season.
Part of the expanded programming will include an offering called the Culture Club, but you won't have to know the lyrics to "Church of the Poison Mind" to get in. Schneider said it will simply be an umbrella of alternative programming.
"The Culture Club will be a variety of artistic and cultural events," he explained. "We're trying to curate an interesting evening in and of itself that will be independent of producing the shows and capture a little bit of a younger audience for us, but will also help build our community."