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East Meets West In a Blue Sphere

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When asked about the name of Blue Sphere Alliance, the L.A. theatre company that he co-founded in 1996, actor Christian Campbell explains somewhat sheepishly that he and his partners at the time were in a rush to come up with something. "We wanted something global-minded, [having to do with] the human experience; there's not just one audience." Thus, "Blue Sphere," referring to the planet Earth, was born. In retrospect, Campbell admits that the name was "kinda hokey, but it works."

Four years later, it's still working. In keeping with the tradition of its award-winning L.A. sister company, Blue Sphere East vows in its mission statement "to bring to the forefront of the community artists who offer new and exciting perspectives on the issues that currently affect the way we live and grow as individuals, as well as works with humanitarian value and importance." This includes pulling actors, writers, and directors "from a vast and diversified ethnical and cultural background," as well as introducing children and teenagers to the theatre. "Our hope is to build…alliances toward offering as many choices as possible to children of all ages, aimed at helping them become well-rounded, positive individuals who view their lives as an array of opportunities rather than a series of obstacles."

The East Coast incarnation of Blue Sphere, only a few months old, was formed by Campbell (who recently relocated to New York to begin work on the FOX drama "The Street"), actress Kim Tobin (another founding member of Blue Sphere in L.A.), and actor Robert Harriell (the newest link in the Blue Sphere chain, whose part in the triad often includes serving as the sounding board for technicians and crew members). In New York, Blue Sphere East hopes to achieve the success of its L.A. counterpart by again working to showcase lesser-known actors, writers, directors, and technicians who might otherwise not have the opportunity to be seen by the larger theatre community.

Back Stage spoke with artistic directors Tobin, Harriell, and Campbell about the creation of Blue Sphere East.

"So many talents don't get to be seen simply because they don't know the right people," says Tobin. According to Campbell, the actress is the business mind of the three. So does Blue Sphere East intend to be the "right people?" To this end, Tobin highlights the company's intent to "facilitate communication that the beginning of theatre is about," bringing together a "large array of different artists through connections…[artists] tiered together through different levels" of experience and expertise.

These connections involve not only artists and technicians, but also the financial support by which the not-for-profit corporation will be funded. Fundraisers and grant writing for Blue Sphere East are tasks undertaken by Tobin herself. The actress praises the "open heart and generous spirit" of those at Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette, the Wall Street investment banking firm where she works, whose dedication to supporting "the firm as well as the community" have made it largely responsible for the funding of Blue Sphere East.

Within the Blue Sphere

Except for Campbell, the company's membership of about eight actors is all East Coast talent (six of whom, including Tobin and Harriell, will appear in "Trust" by Steven Dietz, the company's inaugural production). There are four resident writers, two or three of whom will also direct, several resident graphic designers for their web page, and resident lighting, sound, and set designers.

The directors, writers, and technical staff will form the base for the company's productions. Currently interviewing prospective members found through word-of-mouth, Campbell finds that his four years of experience as an Executive Director of Blue Sphere Alliance in L.A. comes in handy. He stresses the importance of looking for personalities as well as skills that will mesh well with the Blue Sphere brand of theatre. In addition, though staff members will be hired per season, Tobin emphasizes their need to be part of a large "collaborative effort to being here forever."

The core group of actors will intentionally be kept small. As artistic directors, Harriell, Tobin, and Campbell don't want Blue Sphere to be "membership-driven" when it comes to which actors will appear in each production. They want the freedom to first choose high-caliber pieces, and then high-caliber actors to fit those pieces. "In the end, it's the audience that matters," Campbell states, agreeing with Tobin and Harriell that having a large company of actors would be "limiting." As Harriell puts it, "We don't want to have to fit a show around the actors…we don't need to be in every show." There will be open auditions to meet new talent for future productions, and there is already a growing file of actors and actresses who would like to work with the company.

When it comes to creating and maintaining the necessary kinship between the actors and actresses in their productions, Campbell feels that "You don't need to say 'You're in our company' to create relationships."

Tobin refers to Blue Sphere as an "open stage" upon which new people can be brought in from the outside. Presently operating under a Showcase Code, the Blue Sphere East definition of "new people" includes both union and nonunion talent. "There's a stigma about being non-Equity…but it's not your credentials, it's what you can bring on stage that matters," says Harriell, emphasizing the company's desire to give opportunities to all actors. He also points out that two of the "substantial parts" in "Trust" are played by non-Equity actors.

Right now, writers and directors are brought in mainly by word-of-mouth, but Campbell says that they are "open to meeting everyone," adding that Blue Sphere cannot yet send out the call for original scripts because there is no reading staff in place, and they don't want writers to be disappointed by a lack of response from the company. It is this attention to everyone already and potentially involved with Blue Sphere that drives its founders.

"They say it takes about 10 years to 'make it,' " says Tobin about Blue Sphere's goal of being a supportive arena for the talents it will showcase. "We want to create an environment that is a safe place, where one can be loved and celebrated and have a wonderful time with work, and know that it is appreciated…[we want to create] a joy about what we're doing in a community that at large has a hard time doing that."

"Trust" by Steven Dietz will be presented by Blue Sphere East from Oct.19-Nov. 12 at the Raw Space, located at 529 W. 42 St. (near 11th Avenue). Tickets can be purchased at www.smarttix.com, or by calling (212) 206-1515.

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