Five years ago, almost to the day, the stage lights in Stage Left Theater went up for the first time on the theater’s inaugural play, Howard Zinn’s “Marx in Soho,” starring theater owner Bob Nelson in the title role.
Since that day, Stage Left has experienced its fair share of growth.
Cosmetically, the theater has raised its stage to improve sight lines, and there are now non-attached sheds in the back of the theater to store props and act as a workshop.
The lobby has been remodeled, and a donor gave the theater $10,000 to remodel its sound booth.
“My goal as the managing director was to start with the audience first, their experience first,” said managing artistic director Tia Wooleysaid of the remodels, which used repurposed material. “A little more comfort and ambiance was what I was going for.”
The theater’s programming has grown as well, from reader’s theater to fully staged productions. The 2017-18 season thus far has featured productions of “Cyrano,” “Back of the Throat,” “Freud’s Last Session,” “At the Sweet Gum Bridge” and “Burnt by the Sun,” as well as various playwright festivals.
To celebrate its five-year milestone, Stage Left is producing another performance of “Marx in Soho,” again starring Nelson, co-directed by Wooley and her husband Larry.
“Marx in Soho,” opens Friday and runs through April 29.
In “Marx in Soho,” the powers that be, including Muhammad, Buddha and Mark Twain, resurrect the deceased philosopher. But instead of sending him to the Soho neighborhood in London, where Marx spent much of his life, they send him to the Soho neighborhood in New York.
This inspired Wooley to set the new production of “Marx in Soho” in a typical New York apartment.
“I decided to make him come into this abandoned, under-repair, the-tenants-just-moved-out loft apartment in Soho New York,” she said. “The setting that I have is very sparse and it’s dingy and it fits with Marx, is how I felt.”
The first production of “Marx in Soho” was produced as a black box piece with a screen for projections.
Wooley has included the projections in her production as well, using them to show audiences the people Marx references through the play.
In his monologue, Marx compares his beliefs and ideas to the news of modern-day New York. He also reflects on his family and friends and their opinion of his work and on the Paris Commune, which Wooley said Marx considered the idyllic way the world should be run.
“It’s more of a remembrance,” she said. “There’s moments where it’s a contrast and he really gets upset. ‘Nothing’s changed. It’s been 200 years and nothing’s changed.’ ”
Compared to the original production, Wooley thinks she’s put more emphasis on the few comedic moments in the script.
“It’s hard to pull it out of the script occasionally because you can get lost in the emotion of it, but every now and then, he has little snarky things going on.”
Looking ahead to the next five years of Stage Left, Wooley’s next goal is to up production values, including more intricate props, set designs and costumes.
She’d like to continue to develop the playwright festivals and build a deck behind the theater so audience members can enjoy a drink and live music before a show.
She’d also like to one day be able to pay the cast and crew for their time at the theater.
“It’s going to be a capital gain push to try and raise the funds for it but basically just keep improving the audience enjoyment value is what we’re focusing on,” she said.
Whether they know it or not, Stage Left audiences have almost complete control over the theater’s season lineups; the play selection advisory committee only considers titles that have been submitted by community members through the theater’s website.
“We do that on purpose so that it’s what the community is asking for,” Wooley said.
The decision to stage “Marx in Soho” again rather than produce a new play came in part from the great feedback it received from both audiences and members of the theater’s board when Stage Left opened.
“We’re excited that we have made it and that we’re thriving,” Wooley said. “There was a time when we had 10 to 12 audience members for anything and now we have sold out houses. It shows our growth.”