Once they’ve finished their three years of training and a season in the Asolo Repertory Theatre mainstage company, FSU/Asolo Conservatory graduates head in different directions, hoping to find roles and satisfying careers.
For some, things click immediately. For others, competing with hundreds of actors for every role can get frustrating. They may get so close to a role only to lose it at the end of a grueling process. Or they may never get beyond a one-minute monologue.
The dream, desire and skill is there, but what do you do with it? A group of recent Conservatory graduates decided it was better to create their own work so they can keep acting. Who knows what other opportunities might come because the right person saw them on stage one night?
That may be getting a little too far ahead for the founders of Night Shift Theatre, who just completed a two-week run of John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.” With help from the crowd-funding site Indiegogo.com, they raised more than $4,000 to get a performance space at the 45-seat Under St. Marks Theatre in New York’s East Village, where they offered tickets for free.
“There’s no point of doing this if you don’t have an audience,” said General Manager Derrick Olson.
Olson, a former Asolo Rep company manager, is one of the founders, along with 2012 Conservatory graduates Katie Cunningham and Luke Bartholomew and 2011 grads Danny Jones and Ron Kagan.
Cunningham and Jones starred in “Danny,” which they first did together in the Asolo Late Night series two years ago. The production ran for two weeks, and the group is excited by the turnout. Even when tickets were free, “you never know if anyone is going to come when it’s a group they don’t know about yet,” Olson said.
When Cunningham and Jones first talked about remounting “Danny,” they realized “we didn’t just want to do the play. We wanted to do something more,” she said.
That “more” was a company that would provide opportunities for them and friends to work on plays when they didn’t have paying jobs.
No one’s getting rich in this group, or paid. They’re doing it for the work, the plays and the experience.
“Our careers come first. That’s one of the founding ideas,” Cunningham said. “We won’t hold it against a person if they can’t do something because a job comes up somewhere.”
The company’s name, Night Shift, reflects the Asolo Late Night series, in which students and other actors perform a varied slate of plays in random spaces.
“It’s a place for experimentation and that’s something we’re trying to do,” Olson said.
The company is still getting organized but qualifies for tax-deductible support through Fractured Atlas, a non-profit umbrella organization that helps small and new arts organizations.
“We purposely started small, but the goal is to grow and to reach out to Asolo grads and other artists who have worked at the Asolo to create new work here,” Olson said. “The goal is to collaborate with as many people as possible.”
Jones said they also want to make the company welcoming to other conservatory alumni who come to New York.
“It’s inspiring for us to start this company and we want people to be as invested in it as we are,” he said.
It’s too early to think far into the future — after all, they have done only one show — but they are aware that other theater groups, like Steppenwolf in Chicago, started in a similar way, with a group of friends getting together and creating work for themselves.
“We don’t want to hold back any growth that we might have, but we hope that Night Shift will be a place that will always do intimate, stripped-down productions on a dime, to keep our needs really slim,” Jones said. “Then we can continue to produce shows that are based on performance and story, not so much on flashy production values. That’s something that we hope will stay with us for a long time.”
You can learn more about the company atfacebook.com/thenightshifttheatre.
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and chairman of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.