ASHLAND — A newly formed community theater will begin offering live drama in August on the stage at Ashland's Bellview Grange with a production of perennial Broadway favorite "The Fantasticks."
Artistic Director Richard Heller says the new company, Theatre Convivio, will present work by playwrights ranging from Neil Simon to Sam Shepard to Anton Chekhov to Bertolt Brecht.
Heller, who is also a grange member, said the group has already done some work on the grange's stage, moved curtains and added lighting. He said a theater in Ashland is a particularly good fit.
"Part of the grange mission is to foster community," he said. "And the theater community is such a part of Ashland."
Heller says patrons can expect to see actors ranging from some who are familiar to area audiences, such as Sam King, David Dial and Justin Cowan, to longtime "Hill Street Blues" star Jon Cypher, who has a long resume on Broadway and in the movies.
"What we grow here is imagination and talent," Heller said. "There are so many talented people around. We want to tap into that reservoir."
Organizers also expect to work with veterans of Oregon Stage Works and Ashland Contemporary Theatre, although Theatre Convivio is not connected with either, Heller said.
He said a fundraising drive is likely in the near future, although the group has not yet organized as an Oregon nonprofit corporation and is functioning under the nonprofit aegis of the grange for the time being.
Convivio's technical director is Gabriel Ash, who designed "Dogpark the Musical," the production at Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Douglas Young is producing director, and Deirdre Young is associate producer. Convivio is seeking a costume designer to work on "The Fantasticks."
Heller said the theater's name came to him late at night. He discussed it with writer and director Evalyn Hansen, whose adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" the theater hopes to produce, and the two agreed it was a good name.
He Googled the word and found that it was applied to the Buenos Aires theater scene in Argentina, and that one commentator traced it back to Plato, who wrote about the conviviality of theater as a social medium. In a contemporary context, the idea is that the "pure here and now" of live performance is an experience unique to the theater and cannot be duplicated by movies or television, which depend on technology and are not happening in real time in a shared space.
Among the plays Theatre Convivio hopes to produce is "110 in the Shade," based on Richard Nash's "The Rainmaker," with book by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the writers of "The Fantasticks," Heller said.
He said Theatre Convivio hopes to build partner relationships with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University and local businesses. See more about the group at www.facebook.com/theatreconvivio.