The economy may have been in a downturn the past few years, but that didnt stop four new theater companies from opening their doors - two in the past six months.
These artistic directors are young, ambitious and deeply rooted in Idaho, where they grew up. Now, they create theater for their community and possibly the world stage.
In many ways Idaho is a frontier of opportunity. If you work hard enough and have a good idea, you can make it happen.
That is Titus Theatricals founder Eric McCrees mantra as he works to get his company and fledgling project on its feet.
McCree, 25, grew up and developed a love of music in Boise. That drew the Timberline grad to study sound engineering at the Art Institute of Seattle. But it was his stint as an intern at the Denver Centre that sparked an interest in producing.
Since 2008, he's traveled the world with Feld Entertainment, a company that produces arena shows such as Disney On Ice and the Ringling Bros. Circus. And though he kept his day job, he founded Titus Theatricals in 2010 to produce multidisciplinary theater that he wants to take from Boise to Broadway.
"It's how the business works now," McCree says. "So many shows have been launched from alternative cities. The only place not accepting this change is Broadway."
McCree's found his current project, The Bench, a dance-based musical by choreographer Kiesha Lalama and her cousin, jazz musician David Lalama, in 2010. Since then, Lalama has been featured on the PBS documentary series Broadway or Bust and choreographed for films such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, giving the project a bit more clout.
Lalama envisioned The Bench as a narrative jazz-ballet about love, life and family. With McCrees support, her vision is expanding to include poetry and projections.
McCree and Lalama enlisted the Boise Dance Cooperative and local jazz pianist Chuck Smith for the production that is slated to open at the Nampa Civic Center in July.
Check out the project at TheBenchMusical.com.
TREASURE VALLEY CHILDRENS THEATER
Autumn Kersey caught the childrens theater bug 13 years ago when she started producing Boise Parks and Recs summer theater program at Boise Little Theater.
"Its hard not to love it," she says. Now, Kersey, 37, is branching out on her own with her Treasure Valley Childrens Theater in Meridian.
It felt like this was the right time to start this, Kersey says. We had this opportunity to come to Meridian and the city has been so gracious. I know were on the right path.
Part of what made it feel right were the connections Kersey made with the parents of her young actors at Parks and Rec. Many of them lived in West Boise and Meridian and were longing for something for their kids to do that was closer to home.
And they wanted to be able to take their kids to something the kids can see, Kersey says. So many of the community theaters are doing more adult programming than family-friendly.
She saw the opportunity to do something that would serve both needs.
With the motto See, Play, Perform, the Treasure Valley Childrens Theater produces plays for families, and creates opportunities for kids to learn and perform.
TVCTs first production opens Feb. 9. Its a two-person adaptation of Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland.
Its really interactive. The kids get to come up and be part of the tea party and play croquet with the Queen of Hearts, she says.
Kersey will continue to oversee the Parks and Rec program at Boise Little Theater. Shes got directors lined up for the next five summers.
Learn more and sign up for classes at TreasureValleyChildrensTheater.com.
GREEN ZOO THEATRE
Green Zoo is more than just a theater. Led by composer, musician, singer and playwright Thomas Newby, Green Zoo is an arts collective that supports a band and the theater company and theres more to come.
This Zoo is Newbys vision. He corralled his classmates at College of Idaho into the band two years ago for his senior project. That became the bands first album, Crow Songs: An Auditory Exploration of Existential Themes.
We were all musicians but some are theater artists; others are designers and visual artists, Newby, 23, says. So we decided to use each others talents to the fullest and do more.
Their first experiment was The Green Zoo Theatre. It debuted earlier this month with Newbys play Signal-to-Noise, a post-9/11 Internet love story performed at the WaterCooler in Downtown Boise.
Green Zoo currently is working on its second album. The group has a film in the works and wants to produce a performance art piece paired with surreal musical videos.
It used to be that ambitious young artists couldnt wait to leave their small town and try themselves out in a big city. But more and more artists have options when it comes to perusing a creative life.
Its possible to do it from Idaho, says Newby, who grew up in Nampa.
I know personally Im planning on staying here until I run out of ways to develop and learn, Newby says. It could take two years or could take 20. The ease of connectedness through technology today makes it easier.
Newby is getting himself out there. His play Signal-to-Noise is getting a reading in New York City by id Theatre, a company based in McCall that co-produces the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference each summer.
Learn about the Zoo at GreenZooArts.com.
Janessa White came to a turning point after graduating from Boise State Universitys Theatre Department in 2009.
I grew up with Idaho Shakespeare Festival and was an intern at Boise Contemporary Theater. Those groups are increasingly difficult to get into now, so I decided to do my own thing, she says.
White, 27, founded Homegrown Theater in early 2011, Since, then shes produced five plays ranging from Eurydice, a contemporary masterpiece by MacArthur Fellow Sarah Ruhl, to three plays by local playwrights, and she created a play reading series called Blip that happens at Hyde Park Books.
Early on she leaned heavily on her Boise State alumna for actors, directors and playwrights. Now, shes expanding her reach by bringing in more seasoned guest artists, fostering more collaboration and forming partnerships with other companies.
Homegrown performs mostly at the Linen Building in Boises Linen District, though the last two projects, including Living Dead in Denmark, a Shakespearean spin on the zombie apocalypse by Boise playwright Qui Nguyen, she produced at The Red Room, a bar and performance space in Downtown.
For those plays, it was a good fit, White says.
Whites philosophy is to produce theater from the inside out.
We approach directors we want to work with and ask them if they have a project they want to work on, she says. People are more passionate about things they put in their own queue, as opposed to having something assigned to them.
Homegrowns next project is a collaboration with artist Willow Socia and playwright Josh Gross, a live action and puppet play called Magical World of Wonder. White also is working on developing a theater shorts program for the Red Room that will debut in March.
Find out more at HomegrownTheater.com.