Santa Cruz’s own equity theater company soars
In an era when the arts are still getting hit hard financially, and money is so tight that people are hawking things at pawn shops, occasionally, some good rises out of the ashes. And when that good is in the form of the arts, it’s even more inspiring. That’s exactly what’s been happening lately with Jewel Theatre, a local theater company which continues to garner attention for its plays, and for its professional theater status as the only equity company in town, other than Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Just months ago, the company debuted its play, “Clouds,” set at the Broadway Playhouse, directed by renowned local theater director Susan Myer Silton. This time around, Jewel is putting on a production of the musical, “Company,” directed by its own founder and artistic director, Julie James.
The show, with its 14-person cast, opened last weekend at the Broadway Playhouse and will close this weekend. It will show Thursday through Sunday.
GT recently caught up with James to discover the secret for why Jewel Theatre is catching the interest of people right now, to discover what this play is about, and what it takes to woo in theater audiences these days.
GOOD TIMES: Tell us about ‘Company.’
JULIE JAMES: It’s about a guy in New York who comes to his 35th birthday and has one of those moments: “Where am I at in life,” and he’s thinking about relationships and that kind of thing. In a series of vignettes, we see him look back at meetings and gatherings he’s had with friends, most of whom are married. We see him noticing the relationships of those who are married around him, and he starts to recognize the benefits and not the disadvantages of being married. … It’s a musical with strong writing [by Stephen Sondheim], but it’s not a fluffy musical. The music is complex and beautiful.
What about the acting? Sometimes in musicals, the acting gets compromised.
This is not a dance show and the choreography is really limited. The acting is very important and the singing is really important as well because Sondheim is so difficult. It takes someone with a good ear who has experience. It really takes a strong singer and a strong actor. The acting is really important.
Why were you drawn to this play?
It doesn’t have a lot of set requirements, which is perfect because this is a small space. It’s a topic that might be appealing, and we have the actor resources to fill the roles and highlight wonderful people.
This play is considered a non-linear concept musical.
We see these social times he’s had with his friends, but they’re not in chronological order of how they actually happened. It’s not linear in that respect.
How do you stage a 14-person play in the Broadway Playhouse?
You don’t clutter your stage up. You leave yourself some room. And you know that subtle things will read in a small black box theater. You pare it down to make it effective. We use a piano and no orchestra, and no microphones.
When and how did Jewel Theatre get its start? And what makes it different as an equity company?
I founded Jewel in 2005. [James had worked in local theater for quite some time, as well as in theater in the San Jose area. Eventually, James decided to start her own company locally.] Being equity, we bring new talent to town, professional actors. Several cast members have done productions in New York. Equity actors get a weekly paycheck, and medical on top of that, and money is paid for their pension. [In essence, she’s helping to stimulate our local economy by paying all of the actors that she hires—including non-union actors, and presenting professional performances for audiences.]
What types of theater or plays does your company specialize in?
I look for writing, because we’re not politically oriented or avant garde. I like to do contemporary work, delving into some classics, Shaw and Shakespeare, pared down for a small, intimate space. So, we’re not necessarily one type of company. We put on good quality, professional productions, and we do one musical a year, and three to four shows a year. I like to have a nice, round season. I like quirky, serious, tragic stuff, some funny laughs, and then a musical. Jewel also tries to cultivate new work and nurture artists.
What does the future look like for Jewel Theatre?
Collaborative, but keeping one vision. We want to give artists creative flexibility to do a show they want to do. … Step by step, we’ve been able to get more audiences and do more interesting work. … I would love to see us continue to grow, and be able to have a subscriber base, and push the seams out of where we’re at and eventually have our own space, and stay in Santa Cruz.
Jewel Theatre’s production of “Company,” a 14-person musical, will play at the Broadway Playhouse this weekend, Nov. 18, 19, 20, 21. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz, jeweltheatre.net, 425-7506. Tickets are $22-$27.50.