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Small Theater, Big Names

by JULIE CLAY

THEATREZONE Founder and Artistic Director Mark Danni describes the new season, their 8th, as “The lost treasures of Broadway,” with a varied lineup of presentations. We caught up with him for an overview of the new season and a look at TheatreZone.

The season opened with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in December, starring Eddie Mekka (famous as Carmine on TV’s classic Laverne & Shirley) and Gloria Kristy (now Gloria Maher), who starred as Gymnasia in the origianl production on Broadway from 1962-1964. The season continues with Grand Hotel: The Musical in January. Grand Hotel: The Musical showcases the highlife and optimism of the Roaring Twenties. “It was the first show I did on Broadway,” Mark recalls, “It’s a wonderfully well-crafted musical set in 1928 Berlin. The show promises to sweep you away with all the lavishness of the 20’s.

In March, TheatreZone presents the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Next to Normal. Rolling Stone called this groundbreaking musical about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other, something that “pushed Broadway in new directions”. May performances of 110 in the Shade, starring TV’s Jim and Kassie DePaiva, round out the season. The DePaivas were long-time stars of the soap One Life to Live; Kassie can now be seen on General Hospital. Set in the drought-stricken American southwest, 110 in the Shade is an adaptation of The Rainmaker.

TheatreZone is housed in the intimate, 250-seat G&L Theatre located on The Community School of Naples campus. Although it’s located at a school, TheatreZone is a fully professional company staffed by seasoned professionals and a member of the Actors’ Equity Association. This virtually guarantees that the featured talent, as well as production staff and musicians, have the experience and background to present Broadway-level performances.

From the start, Danni has insisted on live musicians for every performance. “I really do mostly all musicals and I only ever use live musicians,” he says, “Our space only allows me about seven musicians. They are real professionals.” The current lineup includes extras from the Naples Philharmonic and the Southwest Florida Symphony. “That’s what live theater is. Otherwise you’d see a movie,” he says.

This particular live theatre started in January 2002. Danni was working at Naples Players and was approached by an associate at the Community School about starting a theatre program. He recalls, “My wife and I said we would create a theatre program (for them), but we would like to start a professional equity regional theatre company as well. Our first professional production was in March 2006. Now we’re in our 8th season.”

Danni explains that the Actors’ Equity Association is the union that the actors belong to. Actors must earn their way into the union with expertise and experience and get 50 points – or reach the point where you are offered a contract. He says, “We are also allowed a small percentage of people who aren’t Equity actors, but who want to work toward getting their 50 points. This guarantees that these are people who are doing this for their career.”

He adds, “It allows us to draw people who have been on Broadway. Once you are Equity you are not allowed to work in a non-Equity setting.”

This differs from community theatres, where anyone can audition and participate, even as a hobby or second career. Equity actors are protected by rules that govern things like how long a rehearsal day can be. The owners of the member theatres pay into this Actors’ Equity fund.

“Then”, he points out, “you get classified by the size of the venue. We are in the classification of a SPT (small professional theatre – 300 seats or less). Small theatres can only make so much money, so the actors can make only so much money. We’re told how much we have to pay actors. Then we pay into their health and pensions.’

Each season Danni tries to feature at least a couple of nationally known celebrities. Anna McArdle, the original Annie on Broadway, has graced the TheatreZone stage, as has Georgia Engel, who played Georgette on the Mary Tyler Moore show. And American Idol finalist and Community School of Naples grad Paige Miles appeared in their production of Beehive a couple of years ago. Miles is one of a small selection of CSN students interested in pursuing acting careers who are talented enough to perform with TheatreZone. In turn, they can start to gather their points toward Equity.

Danni adds, “There are a few professionals that live in southwest Florida. But with most actors, we have to house them and get them here. We do one big audition in September each year and we are packed. It’s amazing the number of quality Equity actors that come from around the state. We get a ton from Orlando because of Disney.” •


THEATREZONE
G & L Theatre
Community School of Naples
13275 Livingston Road • Naples
888-966-3352
www.theatrezone-florida.com


January-February 2013



From the start, Danni has
insisted on live musicians
for every performance.












TheatreZone is housed
in the intimate 250-seat
G & L Theatre on the
Community School of
Naples campus.


Gloria Kristy starred in
the original production of
‘A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to The Forum’
on Broadway in the 1960s
and again in TheatreZone’s
production this past
December.