The mission of the Mendocino Theatre Company is to produce plays of substance and excitement, ranging from the classics to the cutting edge, to nurture local talent, and to provide meaningful theatrical experiences for our local and visiting audiences. MTC is a vital component of both our coastal artistic community and the local economy. We are the embodiment of a uniquely talented group of actors, directors, designers and theatre technicians, all dedicated to creating theatrical magic within the intimate setting of our artistic home, the 75-seat Helen Schoeni Theatre.
The historic black-box stage has been the site of over 200 productions since the company’s founding in 1976. The comfortable lobby boasts a full bar offering cocktails, beer, wine and a variety locally made treats.
The theatre sits at the northeast quadrant of the Mendocino Art Center campus. In addition, the Art Center has a number of galleries that make for interesting exploration while on the property.
California Community Theatre had the chance to ask Pamela W. Allen, Executive Director of Mendocino Theatre Company, more about this intimate theatre company in Northern California.
Mendocino Theatre Company's organizational structure includes a three-member Play Selection Committee. Is this committee responsible for choosing shows to be produced, or do they make first selections which are then passed along to staff, for example? In other words, what is your season selection process, and what role does the Play Selection Committee play in that?
This is a new structure for us, so we’re still working it out. At present, the committee works closely with me. We begin the process by considering how the season should look. For instance, should we consider a certain theme, as we did this year for our 40th anniversary season. The three members then read a lot of plays, carefully considering our space, budget, and acting pool, and make suggestions, which we all then discuss; the final selection is made by me, but the work is definitely done collectively.
I loved reading about your full bar and locally made treats in the MTC lobby. Tell us a little about what kind of experience your lobby gives to patrons (or, perhaps, others) prior to performances? For community theatres interested in featuring their lobby as a comfortable place to congregate before, at intermission, or after shows, what advice can you give?
We are very proud of our lobby, which was recently remodeled and offers a comfortable place for our patrons to mingle, relax, and have a drink or a nosh before the show. We find that people really enjoy the space. Often we use it for pre-show parties, like our Opening Night Galas.
How was the mission of your Second Second Stage program developed, to allow both short runs of productions you may no otherwise produce, and also a chance for new directors to become familiar with MTC? How does MTC work with these new or beginning directors to provide a safe environment to learn but also creative freedom?
Our "Second Stage" productions are on our theatre stage after the close of our "Main Stage" season. These productions offer new or beginning directors free rein; we find that that's the best way to see what they can do so that we know whether or not they can handle a Main Stage play. It is also a wonderful opportunity for novice actors, designers and stage managers to get experience and hone their skills without pressure.
At various times throughout the year, the Mendocino Theatre Company may produce plays with simplified production requirements for shorter runs of two-to three weeks. This “Second Stage” format gives the theatre-going community an opportunity to see exciting works not otherwise possible to produce for a longer run, and may also give new or beginning directors an opportunity to familiarize themselves with directing for MTC.
Another great opportunity for new directors is your Reading Series, which also allows performers with limited schedules to participate, and gives exposure to material that may not otherwise work for Mainstage productions. Do you have successful participation and attendance for these readings? How do you publicize the Reading Series? Do you charge for attendance?
Our reading series, which we plan to revive in 2017, is quite popular with locals and it is usually very easy to find actors to participate. We publicize them mostly through our email communications and flyers. We do not charge for admission, but do ask for a suggested donation--usually $5.
Throughout the calendar year, the Mendocino Theatre Company often produces readings of interesting and engaging plays, Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. The Reading Series gives new directors an opportunity to direct, and the minimal time commitment attracts a variety of performers who might not otherwise be available. Important works that may not otherwise be able to be produced on the Mainstage due to large casts, complicated production requirements, etc., can be experienced through the Reading Series. On occasion, popular readings may be selected as plays for the Mainstage.
Describe your audience - visitors, locals, etc?
Our audience consists of both locals and tourists--locals are, of course, our main support, but we find more and more tourists are making our little theatre a destination. In general, ours is an older audience, though we do encourage younger patrons by offering a youth discount.
What do you think 'makes' community theatre community theatre?
We are a group that cannot exist without the broader community and, in a sense, we very much exist FOR the broader community. After all, what is theatre without an audience? But we often remind ourselves that, as much as we want to please everyone, the theatre is really for US — to give us an opportunity to do plays that WE care about — to solve acting or design problems that challenge US — and, especially, to give the youth in our community an opportunity to succeed at meeting adult responsibilities while working with adults.
Are you a California native?
No, though I have lived in this state for many years.