Ten years ago, the Eastside was a lonely outpost for a theatre. When the Vortex Repertory Company reclaimed an old metal barn on Manor Road and dubbed it Planet Theatre, it was a radical move; almost no one had tried establishing a playhouse east of I-35. Now, all sorts of people are trying it. This past Tuesday, June 29, saw the groundbreaking for the seventh performing arts venue on the Eastside, the fourth to be established in just the last four years. The newest addition to this burgeoning West-End-on-the-Eastside is the play! Theatre, an intimate space that will seat 100 patrons and present an eclectic mix of shows, from classic drama to cabaret to noteworthy new works. The company behind this development is called, appropriately enough, the play! Theatre Group, and it's new to town founder Lisa Scheps moved here a year ago from Chicago after a successful career as a stage manager and corporate theatrical consultant. But Scheps is in cahoots with an established local theatrical artist and entrepreneur, Stuart Moulton of Austin Cabaret Theatre and director of the recent hit Pageant for Naughty Austin.
As with most of the theatre spaces in that area, the play! Theatre will be created out of an existing venue, in this case the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness building at East 12th and Cedar. That puts the play! Theatre roughly midway between the two theatres in the north end of the Eastside arts district (Arts on Real, the Vortex) and the four in the south (Santa Cruz Center for Culture, the Off Center, Blue Theater, Tillery Street Theater). And with a production slate that leans heavily on musicals and family entertainment the theatre is slated to open in November with a production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying it makes a nice complement to the alternative theatre, traditional drama, and dance being produced regularly in the other venues.
The exterior walls to the theatre will remain, but inside the 3,580-square-foot building, Scheps and Moulton will raise the roof five feet and build out the northwest corner to add a backstage area, fly space, dressing rooms, and offices. For more information, visit www.playtheatregroup.org.
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