Lawrence's most successful independent theater company just doubled its performance opportunities for the upcoming season, while some new players on the scene are not doing badly for themselves, either.
Outfits like the Seem-To-Be Players, Cardtable Productions and E.M.U. Theatre produce original works, while also putting their own unique spin on name-brand musicals, dramas and comedies.
And with two of the troupes involved with such prestigious theaters as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the potential stage exposure for area students seems limitless.
"This year will be a transition year for us. We've had a batch of our core people leave. So we really want to attract more original student work. We definitely want to get them involved with the shows. We need to tap into that market," Will Averill, co-founder of Cardtable Productions, says.
"Oh, did I really say 'tap into the market'? Don't quote me on that," he adds with a laugh.
Despite their newfound business sense, Cardtable's actors and crew still work hard at presenting a skewered view of life from their onstage vantage positions. In the past they've performed a variety of original works, with many of them penned by Averill himself.
Last year they joined forces with English Alternative Theatre (EAT) to produce and stage some one-act comedies. One of them, "Bunnies," ended up as a finalist in the American College Theater Festival competition and was one of six plays invited to perform last spring at the Kennedy Center.
The college provided the material, but Cardtable provided the actors and put their own brand of humor into the show. And because of the successful endeavor, the company spent most of its time last spring performing "Bunnies."
"The Kennedy Center was a lot of fun. They have 17 different theaters. It was an honor. And the play was well-received, so it was a good showcase for us," Averill says.
This year will feature another collaboration with EAT, but look for Cardtable to be busy with more of its own material. The group plans on staging Sam Shepard's "True West" this fall, along with their own original cabaret, "The Victor Continental Show." They plan on even more productions in the spring.
"We'll have to stagger our schedules to do it, but we have even more original stuff planned," Averill says.
Like father, like son
Will Averill isn't the only theater-entrepreneur connected with such venues as the Kennedy Center. In fact, he isn't even the only Averill to have a show open back East.
His father, Ric, is artistic director of the Seem-To-Be Players, a children's theater company based in Lawrence. They also do a mix of adapted and original material, and an Averill pens most of the original work.
"An adaptation of ours, 'Alice in Wonderland,' will be at the Kennedy Center," Ric Averill says as if the invitation is pretty commonplace around his household maybe because he has almost 30 years behind him as the head of the company.
The Seem-To-Be Players maintains a national touring company and a local company under the auspices of the Ric Averill Players. They do children's works, musicals, comedies, adaptations and original plays. They also are connected with the Summer Youth Theatre program through the Lawrence Arts Center, 200 W. Ninth St.
And everyone in his household is in on the act. In addition to Will, Ric Averill's wife, Jeanne, and daughter, Trish, also have professional acting credits.
This year the troupe picked up a national booking agent. They have since doubled their performance dates, and must now run a second national touring company to pick up the dates that the first company no longer has time to perform.
"It's an exciting time around here. We've doubled the size of the Seem-To-Be Players," Averill says.
That means there will be opportunities for jobs both on and off the stage with the company, as they get set to perform such shows as "American Tall Tales" and "The Boston Tea Party."
Andy Stowers, co-founder of E.M.U. Theatre, admits that the company has a goofy name. He's gone on record as saying it can mean anything people want it to mean.
But while being named after a big bird or nonsensical initials is pretty flighty, don't let the moniker be misleading. The outfit is serious when it comes to performing plays.
Since August 1999, the group has staged 11 main productions, finding performance space in such locales as the Lawrence Arts Center and Java Break, 17 E. Seventh St.
Their strength lies in being willing to stage any type of work, and they are heavy into staging new original works and having input from the student community. Along with full-length stage shows, they often act in one-acts or sketches that revolve around a common theme.
To boost participation, the company holds an open forum each month to recruit interested actors, writers and technicians.
Now if they could just solve that pesky dilemma of acquiring a consistent acting space.
"It's hard to find an air-conditioned space in Lawrence, especially in the summer," Stowers says.