Like all thespians, Bryan Pridgen is good with words. “We are,” he says, “a young company of professionals with big dreams and a lot of nerve.”
Pridgen is a co–founder and the creative director of Savannah Stage Company, a five–member (thus far) collective of like–minded theatrical talents who’ve hitched their dreams — and nerve — to a brand–new wagon:
“We want to start a non–profit, non–union professional theater,” he explains. “It’s really important to us that artists be paid for the work that they do. There’s a huge community theater support base here, which tells me that this is wanted.”
With a half–dozen active community and college theater groups in Savannah, a full–scale children’s theater, and the professional, tourist–revue minded Savannah Theatre doing big business on Chippewa Square, is there room here?
“One of the biggest demographics we want to hit is people who may not like theater, or think theater’s boring, or want to change viewpoints about the possibilities of what theater can mean,” Pridgen says. “That means getting it out of the theater, taking it to a bar or something and doing an improv night, anything to get it out in front of the people. And then trust that they will compensate us for it.”
The incorporated non–profit began life this fall with a production of the Pridgen–composed Rip Van Winkle: A New Musical, in area schools and libraries. “Theater for young audiences has a really big place in our hearts,” explains Pridgen.
“That’s a really big part of what we do. We think that that is the future audience, and we have to give theater to them. And theater that’s meaningful, and touches them on their level, and doesn’t talk down to them.”
Pridgen and two other co–founders came to Savannah from the Barter Theatre, Virginia’s state theater, in the city of Abingdon. They chose Savannah to launch their project because, in Pridgeon’s words, it’s a relatively small city with a vibrant cultural scene.
“Our motto now is to be ‘accessible and adaptable,’ so that we can go into a school space, a library space, a bar, to go anywhere to do whatever show,” says Pridgen. “We’ve got touring shows, we’ve got these featured shows, and we’re implicating ‘pay what you can’ so that if you can’t afford the ticket price, you can still get in to see that show.
“We think the people that appreciate the work that we do will pay to see professional–quality work onstage, if you give it to them and make it worth the value.”
They’ve been attending community theater performances all over town, and meeting with people from Bay Street, the Collective Face, Muse and more.
“There is a very lively theater community here, it’s small,” he adds. “It’s loyal, but it’s small.”
The other core members are artistic director Jayme Tinti, business manager Ethan Parrill, technical director Wesley Pridgen (Bryan’s brother) and director of advancement Liz Whittimore.
“Often times,” Pridgen laughs, “we ask each other ‘Are we crazy for doing this?’ And then we see what this town does, and I’m encouraged.”
For all details and further information, see savannahstagecompany.com
Company Auditions. Jan. 19, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged. April 26-28, May 3-5. This fast-paced farce parodies all of Shakespeare plays (plus the sonnets) with only three performers in two acts.
The Turn of the Screw. Oct. 25-27, Nov. 1-3. Based on the novel by Henry James. A young governess journeys to a lonely English manor house to care for two recently orphaned children. But she is not their first governess. Are the ghosts real, or are they the product of her own fevered imagination?
Circumference of a Squirrel. John Walch's one-man show about a rodentophobe named Chester, who spins an outlandish and bruising tale of growing up with a father who developed a rabid hatred for squirrels.
Rip Van Winkle: A New Musical. Based on the short story by Washington Irving. Rip ends up face-to-face with Diedrich Knickerbocker, a magical gnome who can make all his dreams come true