PHOENIX -- Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) may be unique among regional theatres. While many companies maintain multiple spaces in the same city, ATC maintains multiple spaces in different cities, with the result being that actors, designers, technicians, and audiences all benefit.
ATC opened in 1967 and went professional in 1972. But its most impressive move came in 1978, when it became the first nonprofit regional theatre in the nation to set up permanent residence in two distant cities. "We truly are a two-city company," says David Ira Goldstein, ATC's artistic director. "I live in Phoenix while our managing director, Jessica Andrews, and [associate artistic director] Samantha Wyer live in Tucson."
ATC runs each production a full three weeks in Tucson, then moves sets, costumes, props, cast, and crew 120 miles away to Phoenix, where it reopens the show five days later for another three-week run.
And now the company has a new two-week stop: the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Arizona's third-largest city, which means actors in certain productions have eight-week runs.
The Mesa performances take place at the newly opened Mesa Arts Center, a mere 18 miles from the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. While it might seem that mounting additional shows so nearby would sap the company's audience, Goldstein says it isn't so: "We were pleased to discover after our first show in Mesa that 75 percent of the ticket buyers were new to our database, so we're reaching a large new population by expanding to a third city."
Not only does ATC offer a broad selection of dramas, comedies, classics, and musicals that can travel -- the current season consists of Jon Jory's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates, Randal Myler and Mark Harelik's Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Regina Taylor's Crowns, Steven Dietz's Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, and Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie -- but more and more the company is creating co-productions with other regional theatres. In recent seasons, ATC has worked with the Pasadena Playhouse, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Pride and Prejudice was a co-production with the Alliance Theatre of Atlanta and San Jose Repertory Theatre, and it featured actors based in Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, and New York City.
Through these co-productions, Goldstein says, the company has gained access to a significantly larger pool of Equity and non-Equity actors, as well as directors and designers. And while he has his preferences -- "We are loyal to our casting directors, Paul Fouquet and Alan Filderman in New York and Michael Donovan and Julia Flores in L.A.," he says -- he also welcomes any actor who fills the theatre's production needs: "I'm always looking for actors who can work large proscenium venues -- with good training to fill a space with honesty and craft."
Maren Maclean, a Phoenix-based actress who was one of the witches in ATC's wonderfully stark Macbeth last season, worked hard to land her first role with the company. It took her four auditions over six years, but she believes it was worth the wait: "I think the bonus of working for ATC is the nice long contracts available. A three-week run can be too short. By the time you feel you've gotten a great groove with the tone of the show, you have to close. A longer run offers some nice stability." How does a Phoenician handle rehearsing and working in distant cities? "With ATC," she explains, "you get the best of both worlds: the ability to work for a respected theatre while traveling, [yet] still being able to wake to see my husband and daughter while living in the comfort of our own home."
You might assume the company's arrangements are hectic for actors who come to Arizona from other states, but that isn't the case, says Mississippi Charles Bevel, a veteran of two ATC shows, including the recently completed Hank Williams: Lost Highway, one of the first to play all three venues. "Each [regional] theatre has its own administration. Dealing with the same people during the 10-week run is much better," Bevel says. "[ATC] takes care of the logistics. It's just a matter of refilling your suitcases to move from one furnished apartment to the next."
Goldstein points out how working in three cities through co-productions provides an extra benefit to actors in particular: "Equity actors require 20 weeks of work a year to receive their health insurance. With our setup, an actor in one production could potentially make that mark."
For more information about Arizona Theatre Company, visit www.aztheatreco.org.