Being Spontaneous: A new direction for a Boise community theater
by Dana Oland
the Idaho Statesman 02-15-06
They say that if you want something done, ask a busy person. That would be Buffie Main these days, health care administrator, Pilates instructor, and now artistic director of the new Spontaneous Productions.
It may sound chaotic but it's the latter part of her resume that creates the balance, she said.
"Community theater is my passion," Main said. "I love theater, which is always fabulous, but then it's about community, too. You're bringing different people together, and you're building a place for them to be creative and telling story at the same time."
This is not the same Spontaneous.
It's a reinvention of a company that produced mostly gay-themed theater. Along with president of the board Mike Silva, who runs the business side of things, Main hopes to take the company into a new direction and in a new space.
The company will debut in its new incarnation this weekend with "The Exonerated," directed by Silva. The play will be at Visual Arts Collective, or VaC, an art gallery in the Linen District that is morphing into a multi-disciplinary performance space with theater, dance and music in its artistic bag. Main and Silva plan to produce a four-show season.
Silva produced the play last July as a benefit for the American Civil Liberties Union. It features nearly the same cast.
"The Exonerated," written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, tells riveting stories about six real people who were wrongly convicted, sentenced to death and then found innocent. Main plays Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, a woman who spent 16 years on Death Row before being exonerated.
Main, who has a master's degree in theater, came to Boise in 2001 to be the performing arts coordinator for the Boise City Arts Commission. She moved here from South Dakota with her husband, Eric Schmidt, who teaches in the Meridian school district. They settled in, bought a house and adopted two dogs named Yote and M from the Idaho Humane Society.
"Boise has fulfilled a dream for Eric and me. We wanted a place where we could both work, do theater, find friends and build community, walk our dogs and be happy," she said.
Main quickly forged a connection at community theaters around town, including the old Spontaneous. She met Silva in a production of "A Man For All Seasons" at Boise Little Theater, which Silva directed.
"I thought she was so stupendous," Silva said. "She was head and shoulders above anyone else. She's an actor's actor. When we formed the new Spontaneous, I knew I wanted her to be the artistic director."
Although Main was initially surprised at Silva's offer, it didn't take her long to say yes, she said.
"At first I was back and forth. I wondered if this community needs another theater company. We're really saturated. But Spontaneous is important because it is willing to tell anybody's story, whether they are women, or gay, or black or whatever."
Main says the ultimate goal is to produce quality work that adds to the greater good.
"For me, 'greater good' means hope, to do good work and to create community. That can happen in zillions of ways," she said. "It can happen in a goofy farce; it doesn't have to be a tragic play. If you're making a group of people laugh who might not have the opportunity to laugh, that's a greater good in my world."
Ironically, there's not a farce in the bunch this season.
Next up, in May, is "Closer," Patrick Marber's dark look at relationships that was adapted into an Academy Award nominated film in 2004. Then it's "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," Terrence McNally's AIDS drama, in September; and "Take Me Out," Richard Greenberg's Pulitzer-nominated play about a gay baseball player, in November.
The old Spontaneous
Theater artist and director Scott Stewart co-founded Spontaneous in 1997. Along with Lane Thomas and Steven Lanzet, he wanted to create a theater to produced gay- and lesbian-themed theater, said Steve Martin, a longtime Spontaneous company and board member.
They began producing mostly campy comedies and musical revues. But the theater evolved into a company that tackled dramatic, issue-oriented plays that told stories about gay rights, human rights, women's issues and other poignant topics, Martin said.
They still did the campy stuff too, including an annual production of "The Rocky Horror Show" each October.
Stewart ran the company full-time, and the volunteer actors, directors and designers fed off of Stewart's energy and love of theater, Martin said.
"That theater was his passion and his life," he said.
Then Stewart died in 2004 from a brain tumor. (It was Stewart's initial tumor diagnosis and remission that caused him to quit professional theater in the Bay Area and move with his partner, Doug Flanders, to Boise and found Spontaneous.)
Stewart's death took the life out of Spontaneous, Martin said. "When the rest of us had to step up and take up the slack, it just wasn't the same."
At that point many of the board members, including Martin, were ready to let the company go, he said. But not Silva. He saw an opportunity to revive Spontaneous and give it new life.
Silva and his wife, Rosemarie A. Casper, moved back to Boise in 2001 and brought with them their company CreativeArts, which makes napkins, coasters and wine bottle gift bags.
Silva had lived in Boise in the 1970s and was involved in business, civic politics and theater. Then, he performed with Boise Little Theater and at Boise Music Week. After 30 years in the Bay Area, Silva returned to Idaho and dove back into Boise's community theater scene.
But this time he found himself searching for something different.
"I really wanted more creative freedom than I could have anywhere I knew. I want to push the envelope, not do 'Arsenic and Old Lace' one more time. That freedom is what I found at Spontaneous," he said. He directed several shows there and became the head of the theater's board.
When Spontaneous began to implode, he stepped in.
Because the company had given up its performance space on Boise Avenue, Silva went looking for another one. He didn't have to look far. His office is next door to the Visual Arts Collective in the Linen District. After a conversation with owners Sam and Anneliessa Stimpert the deal was set.
The VaC is a great fit for the new Spontaneous, Silva said.
The Linen District is poised to become a new cultural center near Downtown. With gallery shows, performance art "happenings" and now theater, the VaC currently draws most of the attention in the area. That's just the kind of energy Spontaneous wants to tap into, Silva said.
The theater will transform the gallery space with a bistro-like atmosphere, surrounded by whatever art is on display. Right now, it's sculptor Sue Latta's "Departure."
Patrons will sit at cafe tables that Silva bought from Mosaic Gallery Bar, which closed this week, and seats from The Flicks Theatre. Beer, wine and frozen custard from Donnie Mac's Trailer Park Cuisine will be available for purchase.
So far, Main has programmed challenging work for this transitional season and that could be then death nail in the coffin for the company, she said.
"For me as a novice artistic director, someone who doesn't do this as my profession, as my career, that's the gamble we're all going to play. We're going to gamble that people want to see challenging stories that create dialogue, even conflict. If not, then we're going to fold. And it's just that simple. But I think this community is hungry for that," Main said.
The past Spontaneous crowd says it's comforting to know the theater will go on, Martin said.
"I wish them best and I'm happy I was able to help it get this far. Scott would be thrilled to know that it will continue. That theater meant everything to him. Maybe they will take it to the next level. If they do, it could be really great."