Photograph by Nina Zhito
Stage Craft: MTC's artistic director Jasson Minadakis.
Marin Theatre Company
By David Templeton
We really want to be one of the major cultural attractions for the North Bay, and we are well on our way to achieving that goal," says Jasson Minadakis, artistic director of Mill Valley's Marin Theatre Company. "Developing and nurturing the artists who live right here in the North Bay is something of huge importance to us," he says. "Of course, we expect a lot from the artists who work with us, because the community expects a lot from us."
As the North Bay's only full-time, all-professional theater company (it's an Equity house that runs its plays Tuesday through Sunday—just like in San Francisco!) the 41-year-old MTC has a lot of high expectations to live up to. With an annual operating budget of over $2 million, there is always enormous pressure to produce popular and profitable shows. Given that MTC is also pretty much the only theater company north of the Golden Gate that ever gets reviewed by the San Francisco newspapers, it has the additional pressure of being the North Bay's sole theatrical representative to the rest of the Bay Area. With all that pressure, it would be reasonable for MTC to stay focused on a very simple goal: to stage plays that pack the houses and please the critics—and nothing more.
But there is more to MTC than what happens beneath the proscenium arch. Largely under the radar, with little fanfare or public awareness, the company has been operating one of the most ambitious and expansive culture-education outreaches in the region. Under the direction of Josh Costello, MTC's artistic director of expanded programs, who works closely with Minadakis, the venerable nonprofit throws much of its effort into a large and growing number of community outreach programs: MTC in the Schools augments the curriculum of Marin County schools by placing drama teachers, playwrights and actors in classes, either after school or as part of existing arts, culture and literature courses; SceneFest gives young actors the opportunity to perform scenes and monologues in a safe, education-oriented acting competition; MTC's ingenious Teen Advisory Board assembles middle and high school students to act as theatrical diplomats between MTC and the Marin teen community; with Teachers Night Out, educators are invited to attend free preview performances of new plays, where they can pick up study guides and discuss ways to incorporate the plays' themes into class curriculum; the Me and My Shadow program pairs young students with MTC staff members in order to learn about theater operation from the inside; plus, there are numerous scholarship programs and frequent projects, such as the recent Canal Project, in which students develop original plays based on experiences taken from their own lives.
"The nurturing of an appreciation of theater among nontraditional audiences, and the development of local talent, is a huge part of what we do," Minadakis says. This results in a large number of local actors and writers being given opportunities to develop fresh plays through such programs as the annual Nu Werks showcase, and the brand-new workshop series presenting such works-in-development as Marin County playwright Kenn Rabin's Found Objects, which kicks off the workshop series Oct. 10.
"We believe that these kinds of programs are one of the reasons why we're here," says Minadakis, "not just to produce vital and entertaining theater, but to develop local theater artists and give them a place to practice their craft in a professional environment, with high artistic standards. Then, our outreach programs are designed to cultivate a generation of new theatergoers, to spread the love of the theater, so that our artists always have someone smart and appreciative sitting out there in those seats."
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