The distance between an idea and reality can be enormous.
Kelley Ogden and Lisa Thew, co-founders of KOLT Run Creations, hope to make it nonexistent for the next few weeks as they stage playwright Caryl Churchill's "Vinegar Tom" at the Elks Tower in downtown Sacramento.
That would be in the abandoned, empty basement swimming pool of the Elks Tower, at 11th and J streets, to be exact. In the pool.
With the audience.
It's a creative, fun, interesting idea and not as easy as it looks that the two women and their hardy band of collaborators are trying to pull off. In other words, it's very much a KOLT Run type of thing.
Since coming to Sacramento in 2005 and producing their first show here, Jane Martin's abortion drama "Keely and Du," Ogden and Thew have bobbed and weaved across the theater scene with a studied but edgy aesthetic and continually provocative productions.
The politically minded Churchill's "Vinegar Tom" uses 17th century witchcraft trials in England to look at modern gender relations. Ogden and Thew were seeking an alternative venue to stage the play when they learned from supporters at Rail Bridge Cellars in the Elks Tower building that the pool was available.
While sitting in the empty jacuzzi behind the pool as work on the set buzzed around them, Ogden and Thew said they are at their best and happiest when trying to meet the expectations of a new production.
"We're never sure we're going to rise to it, and that's some of the fun and the terror of what we do," said Thew, who is directing "Vinegar Tom."
"We'll sit down and say 'That seems like a really cool thing to do let's try it.' "
The pair, who are married, met at DePaul University while studying theater and eventually moved to Chicago. There, Ogden worked for one of the nation's leading regional theater companies, Steppenwolf, while Thew co-founded a small theater ensemble.
Before coming to Sacramento, they lived in Houston and worked for the Houston Ballet, the fifth-largest ballet company in the country. Absorbing artistic and business lessons on their journeys, they have used those experiences to inform the way KOLT goes about making theater.
"When we started here, it was really 'Can we produce a quality show?' Thew said. "We did, and it felt good, and we did another one and another one. We became a part of the scene by producing work."
Over nearly three years, in which they put on three shows, each show KOLT did was its own one-off entity: George F. Walker's dark comedy, "Escape From Happiness," a highly acclaimed three-person "Crime and Punishment," and a brooding adaptation of the classic "Antigone."
"I think we were at the point after 'Antigone,' when that show closed, we kind of sat back and thought 'What now?' " Thew said.
They went back to Chicago, seeing all the theater they could, and returned to Sacramento determined to do a season of plays.
"It became another 'Can we do this?' " Thew said.
The "Vinegar Tom" production will be the "button" on the season, but there have been challenges in putting the production together at the Elks Tower.
Sound in the wide-open concrete walled space has forced recalibration of staging elements.
"At first, someone sitting in the audience would have trouble understanding the words being spoken," Thew said of early rehearsals. "It's not a matter of volume, it's a matter of articulation."
Ogden, who is performing in the show, said the actors and musicians who are providing live original music had to become a human mixing board.
"You add in music, you add in accents, you add in sound environments it's not just being heard or not being heard," Ogden said. "We had to say, 'We're going to take these levels down and you project up here.' OK music team, you have to come down now."
There also are the more basic considerations of how to get the audience into the building and down to the pool.
"Everybody who sees the show is going to have to sign a waiver acknowledging they are technically in a construction zone," Ogden said. "We always loved seeing shows in an alleys, or train cars and barns, so all this is worth it to us."
The two agree they do theater for the content of the plays, not their personal expression.
"We never do a show because Lisa says 'I really want to direct this,' or I say 'I really want to play this role,' " Ogden said.
"Honestly, if we wanted that outlet to just perform or just direct, it would be so much easier to go do it at other theaters," Thew said.
"But if we're going to produce, then it's 'What can we provide that nobody else is? What can we do that isn't being said or seen?' "
"Every time we do a show we go back to that intention," Thew said. "And it's led us down this organic path to where we are."
What: KOLT Run Creations presents Caryl Churchill's 1976 drama "Vinegar Tom," performed in the empty basement swimming pool in the Elks Tower.
When: Limited eight-show run 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays today-Nov. 3
Where: Elks Tower, 921 11th St., Sacramento
Tickets: $20 general admission or $30 VIP tickets, which include a post-show wine-tasting in the penthouse.
Information: (916) 454-1500, www.koltruncreations.com