I recently had an experience rather rare in these parts. I attended the opening night of a world premiere in a brand new theater space in Tucson.
The first time I talked to Sheldon Metz was over four years ago. He was new-ish in town, having landed here from Los Angeles, and he was trying to create a series at the now-defunct Beowulf Alley Theatre, recreating old-time radio shows, not to be actually broadcast, but with a live audience present (as was often the case back then).
In that first conversation, we talked about the need for theater space in this city, a space that was small but top-notch, financially within reach of most of the smaller theaters in town to rent and was set-friendly in the sense that a production could leave its set intact for the next night instead of breaking it down and rebuilding it on the following night, only to take it down again, etc. It happens.
Nobody could deny that smaller, not-for-profit theaters in Tucson were starving for a legitimate and affordable space in which to rehearse and perform. Beowulf Alley Theatre was trying to rent out its space to other groups, but that didn't work too well, perhaps because the theater entity itself was decomposing. By the time Beowulf Alley closed, and there was one less viable theater space in town, Metz and John Vornholt (who had been a part of Beowulf Alley), put their heads together and dreamed and figured and mulled and declared: a new theater space was going to happen.
I had other occasions to speak with Metz, chiefly about an entity he and a few others had dreamed up called TADA! (Tucson Alliance of Dramatic Artists—I know, a little precious). The group wanted to produce only new and "relevant" plays, so they were sponsoring a new play competition. The top three or four winning writers would receive staged readings of their shows, and based on audience response to those readings, the winning script would be given a full production the next year.
They had found a space at that time but Metz asked to keep it on the down low. Regardless, things seemed like they really were coming together. It was perfect, but the deal hadn't been finalized quite yet.
It never was.
Months passed and it was time for TADA!'s new round of the play contest. Ninety scripts had to be juried. It was hard going, but because it was a contest, the scripts had to be read and judged.
"Now, don't say anything," Metz said when I spoke with him about the winning scripts. They were closing in on a space, he confided, and it was looking good.
That location fell through as well. Metz was becoming the theater equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.
To be fair, trying to find a space that could serve as a theater is no easy chore, especially with limited funds. Whatever the location, it would have to be modified for a theater's needs not only in terms of a stage and seats for an audience, but installing lighting and sound equipment and electrical upgrades (very expensive stuff), space for building and storing sets, for dressing rooms and ADA approved bathrooms. Plus, there were other questions. What area of town would be ideal? And, how about parking?
By this time, this mythical theater space had a name: Alliance Performing Center of Tucson, or APCOT. There just was no place to hang the sign. Meanwhile, Metz and Vornholt were beating the bushes for donations to help the cause.
TADA!'s following year's contest dropped over 300 scripts into their laps. Working their way through that was so overwhelming that the group decided that there would be no more contests, just a general call for submissions. It had been TADA!'s intention to perform only original plays and that's how they would proceed, just without having to adjudicate massive piles of contest scripts.
The winner of that 2015's group, a script by David Middleman of Tempe, was slated to be performed this year, and finally the elusive space had been found at the Alliance Performance Center of Tucson, located at 8892 E. Tanque Verde Rd., at the intersection of Bear Canyon Road.
Vornholt said that it was actually a comrade, Renata Rauschen, who was looking for a space for her theater, Roadrunner Theatre, who pointed out the potential space to Metz and Vornholt. It was a bit different from what they had imagined, but it was workable. So they re-fashioned the 2,400 square foot space in just three weeks.
Middleman's play, Senior Moments, opened last weekend. It's a pretty interesting script that focuses on the many aspects of Alzheimer's and its consequences, and although the production was a little rough around the edges, it deserves to be seen.
Vornholt says the location is an underserved part of town, theater-wise, and that should work to its advantage. It is available to be rented by theater groups, musical acts and almost any other kind of group that needs a space, including non-performance groups. Rates have been set, and the details of what any group needs will be worked out case by case. The occupancy max is 123 folks.
Summer theater classes for kids are in the works, Vornholt says, and up next Rauschen's group will produce Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig.
Metz points out that it's possible for theaters renting the space to configure the stage area in several ways, and that theaters can bring their own personnel or negotiate with APCOT's volunteers. A deposit will be required for the use of lighting, but is refundable if the lights remain intact.
"Basically," says Metz, who doesn't have to use hushed tones anymore, "John and I are ready to help companies in any manner they choose. Our house is their house."