A theater company that will be largely guided by a group of LGBT theater aficionados will celebrate its opening season this spring, providing Philadelphia with a new outlet for both overlooked theatrical pieces and actors.
Center City Theatre Works will launch its debut production, “The Shadow Box,” in May at the new Upstairs at the Adrienne Theater.
Jeffrey Lesser, president and artistic director of the new nonprofit, said the endeavor began about a year ago in response to various negative encounters some of the founders had in the current theater community.
“There are a group of us who each had different theater experiences but collectively felt that a lot of the different theater companies in the area just weren’t satisfying,” Lesser said. “So we thought we needed to bring in a company to the theater scene in Philadelphia that was professional, one that had a warm environment and one that was affordable to the public.”
Founding members include Lesser, creative director Vivian Fineman, managing director Steve Kolbo, treasurer Stephen Markowski and secretary Jack Nixon — four of whom are gay.
The company plans to start with two productions a year — dramas, comedies or musicals — and eventually grow to three or four annual shows and the exploration of other realms, like a cabaret series.
Lesser said the organization will concentrate on providing a stage for shows that some of the large, mainstream companies often shy away from, but whose artistic value is nevertheless high.
“One of the things we really want to focus on is neglected plays, especially the smaller musicals that aren’t done very often,” he said. “Most of the companies here in Philadelphia do the really big musicals with casts of 20 or 30, but there are so many really lovely intimate musicals and plays that aren’t done very often but that are real jewels.”
Depending on the content of the production, Lesser said the company also wants to reach out to the community that may be featured in the show’s subject matter to play a direct role in the production.
LGBT topics will take front and center in Center City Theatre Works’ first production.
“The Shadow Box” is a Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama that follows the lives of a group of terminally ill people living on the grounds of a hospital, two of whom are a gay couple — which Lesser noted was a bold statement for a play that first hit Broadway in 1977.
In addition to producing plays that are not frequently staged, the company will also work to give exposure to local actors who have struggled with Philadelphia’s tough theater market.
“Philadelphia is kind of an incestuous theater community,” Lesser said. “The same people are used a lot of the time, so it’s a difficult place for actors to break into. One of our big things is that we’re going to be very, very open about new people coming in. We want people to be able to come to us, no matter if they’re new, and they can get their start with us.”
As the organization itself is just getting started, it’s now looking for corporate sponsors to support its work. The company celebrated its opening with about 60 supporters at a fundraising event last month and marked a milestone this week with the launch of its website. Supporters can make tax-deductible donations to the organization on the website.
Center City Theatre Works will host auditions for “The Shadow Box” in February, with rehearsals beginning this spring.
For more information, visit www.centercitytheatreworks.org.