A New Jewel

AE_CastDOUBT_1Jewel Theatre Company takes over the Actors’ Theatre space
Julie James has some big shoes to fill. And we think she’ll do just fine. As the artistic director of Jewel Theatre Company, one of Santa Cruz’s only equity theater companies, James has decided to ratchet things up significantly with her constantly sold-out theater performances by securing Jewel a home base—the old Actors’ Theatre digs. Actors’ Theatre, a long-time Santa Cruz venue for plays created by the resident company at the time (Actors’ Theatre), and many other shows that have passed through its halls, has moved out of the building. The empty space paved the way for James and her company, Jewel, to take over as the resident company.

The big shoes are the memories that Actors’ Theatre leaves in that building on Center Street. There, the annual 8 10s @ 8 has happened (and will continue to as James is already in conversations to keep that event ongoing). In addition, Actors’ Theatre raised up a cadre of directors, producers, and actors in Santa Cruz, and offered classes, workshops, and much more throughout the years.

Passersby will see the name change on the signage, now converted to “Center Stage.” But audience goers need not fear that the local theater scene has wilted. Hardly. It’s still quite thriving with the aforementioned Actors’ Theatre still active, in addition to many other companies that are producing work in the area. But, currently, many eyes will be locked on who’s taking over the old Actors’ Theatre space. And that, theatergoers, is Julie James.

AE_JulieJames started her local company, Jewel Theatre, six years ago. Her own nickname is Jules and so the name connection was made—Julie, to Jules, to Jewel. From the start, James wanted to create a professional theater company (meaning one that has an equity contract) and she has done just that. And as the years have gone by, she has secured a strong theatrical niche in town, holding her own with plays like “Doubt,”  “Clouds,” and many others. “I think we’re doing something a little different,” says James of her company. She tends to choose productions that are backed by a strong playwright, with the majority of the selection being contemporary. Some classics and musicals make it into the mix, too. In fact, next on the Jewel Theatre plate is “Of Mice and Men.”

“This [move to the Actors’ Theatre space] came at the right time,” James says. “Subscription and ticket sales are growing, there was momentum and support. … So, we went for it. We are the resident company. We won’t be producing or sponsoring other companies’ productions, but they can rent the space.”

The new name obviously was quite ideal—the venue is located on Center Street; plus, companies that rent the space can then be distinguishable from Jewel Theatre.

In addition to Jewel renting the space to other theater companies, they welcome rentals to local businesses and organizations that might need a space to do a presentation or workshop. The entire Arts Center also has a restaurant, which is convenient for visitors. In addition, Jewel plans to offer various acting, singing, video and dance classes down the road. Visit jeweltheatre.net for more information and to stay posted on the upcoming class offerings.

As for what’s in store for this upcoming year at the new Center Stage, James is currently finalizing the lineup, but this much we know—in March her own company will make its debut performance in its new home with the production, “Of Mice and Men.”  The play runs March 11-19, with tickets selling for $22-$27.

The story, “Of Mice and Men,” is an iconic Steinbeck tale. “It’s the story of two men in the depression era who are laborers and work on ranches, and survive, just barely, by going from job to job,” James says. “Lennie is developmentally disabled and he can’t survive on his own. … George is compelled to take care of Lennie and make sure he is OK. … [Ultimately] the story is about how everybody wants to have connection and be validated as a human being. It’s about community connection, the human condition, and how we deal with it.”

The play will star local favorite actors Mike Ryan as George and Erik Gandolfi as Lennie, in addition to a full cast. It’s being directed by Bill Peters, with James as the artistic director. “Sometimes you pick a play and figure out who’s going to do it,” James says. “Sometimes you see people and think they’d be great for this play. That was the case when I was working with Mike and Eric in ‘Doubt.’ Erik directed and Mike was in it. It occurred to me, ‘Here’s George and Lennie.’ … And Bill, I wanted to bring him in. He’s wonderful. People love to work with Bill.”

Over the course of this year, Jewel plans to do four plays in their new home. And if things go as planned, this new theater space will indeed be a ‘jewel’ in our community.

Jewel Theatre Company now resides at 1001 Center St., in the new Center Stage (formerly Actors’ Theatre). For information or tickets to the upcoming “Of Mice and Men,” visit jeweltheatre.net or call 425-7506. “Of Mice and Men” runs March 11-19. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $22-$27.50.

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