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Stage Theater to go

September 17, 2018

A theater company doesn’t have to be limited to one piece of real estate where the line between the audience and the performers is clear-cut.

In New York City and elsewhere, adventurous directors are making the world their stage by presenting plays in hotels, bars and churches rather than theaters, pushing audiences to be part of the action rather than passive observers.

Site-specific shows, like the downtown Manhattan version of “Macbeth” called “Sleep No More,” in which the audience follows the action through an old hotel, and a “Sweeney Todd” set in a working bakery, have attracted new, younger theater audiences who relish the interactive nature of the Internet and social media.

The concept of ditching a permanent theatrical home in favor of finding real places that will augment the power of a play is one of the driving forces behind the new Fairfield Center Stage company whose inaugural season features shows presented in the historic Burr mansion, the beautiful Pequot Library, and the only gay bar in town, the Trevi Lounge.

Artistic director Christy McIntosh-Newsom and her executive producer husband, Eli Newsom, built a strong following for the shows they produced under the auspices of Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre, but they are excited to be creating a new company with a new way of doing shows for Fairfield County audiences.

“The approach really began with our summer production,” Eli says of a concert version of “The Music Man,” presented outdoors in June on a mobile stage in the Fairfield Museum Commons.

“The inspiration for that was site specific,” Christy adds. “People going through downtown Fairfield could see a piece of Americana right in the middle of the town.”

The Newsoms originally looked into the idea of doing shows at the long-closed Community Theatre, but it would cost millions of dollars to purchase and restore the building.

As is so often the case in the arts, a seeming roadblock forced the couple to think of a creative alternative and they had the brainstorm of moving around Fairfield, matching real places with shows that would take on a whole new life there.

“We took it as a sign,” Christy says of finding out the Community Theatre would be unattainable. “We weren’t going to let that stop us.”

“And there is a big benefit in not having a monthly lease,” Eli adds.

The executive producer notes that even Broadway productions having been playing with the idea of mixing actors and audiences in new configurations. The recent “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” starring Josh Groban, took apart the Imperial Theatre so that the action could roam off the stage and wander through the audience.

“Theater is not a place — it’s a community,” Christy stresses, “and we’ve been honored and humbled by the support we have already received.”

Both of the Newsoms were buzzed by the idea of doing their official season-opener, the transgender musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” at the Trevi Lounge in Fairfield. Although the show had a highly successful Broadway revival, the original John Cameron Mitchell production was done at a seedy downtown Manhattan hotel.

“Eli and I have loved this show for so long,” Christy says. “I’ve been listening to the CD for 20 years and we talked about doing other productions.

“When we started planning this environmental season, ‘Hedwig’ was the first thing I thought of,” she says of the musical that had six performances, from Sept. 7 to 15, at Fairfield’s only gay bar.

“It’s a two-person cast and the score is something our band could do really well,” Eli adds.

“It seemed like a great way to ease in,” Christy says, “so that we could build up to our more massive shows like ‘Dreamgirls.’” (Fairfield Center Stage will be doing the Michael Bennett show business musical at the Black Rock Church in March.)

The site-specific concept led the couple to add “A Christmas Carol” to the season schedule.

“We wouldn’t really be interested in a normal presentation — that’s not really our MO — but doing it as immersive style theater is exciting,” Eli says of producing the show at the Burr Mansion from Dec. 14 to 23.

“We thought, What if, like in “Sleep No More,” the audience follows Scrooge from room to room? It will only be an hour long, and more structured than ‘Sleep No More’ but our designers will be hitting the ‘refresh’ button with that one,” Eli adds.

For show and ticket details on the company’s inaugural season, visit fairfieldcenterstage.org.

jmeyers@hearstmediactpost.com; Twitter: @joesview

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