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[whitespace] Josh Kornbluth
Ben There, Done That: Josh Kornbluth's monologue 'Ben Franklin: Unplugged,' opens the Z Festival this weekend at the Actors' Theatre.

Z Best of the Bunch:
Z Space Studio brings quality theater from SF to the Actors' Theatre

THEATER IS ABOUT so much more than the final product presented to an audience on opening night. It's also about community, artistic vision and finding an outlet for the electric creativity that crackles when a piece comes to life. But what happens when there just isn't enough time, money or space to provide an outlet for all that energy? Z Space Studio, a San Francisco theater group that specializes in fostering artistic vision as well as bringing innovative, quality theater works to the stage, recognizes the frustration when all the mind's sweat and tears can't come to fruition.

"The Z Studio has developed a large body of work--around 10 to 15 pieces--throughout the year," David Dower, the studio's artistic director, explains. "Some of it is designed for individuals, some for companies. We produce as much as we can, but we just can't produce it all. Some works will go on in San Francisco for a short life span, but there's still an audience there--and in the Bay Area--that hasn't been exposed to the pieces."

And so the studio came up with a solution that pleases not only the artists involved but also those interested in new and different theater--why not bring the works to a Bay Area city, audience and community outside of the metropolitan San Francisco area?

On Thursday (Sept. 17), the studio kicks off its Z Festival of New Performance at the downtown Actors' Theatre. On the docket for this month of wonderfully quirky and quality theater is the brilliant monologist Josh Kornbluth and his neurosis-filled Ben Franklin: Unplugged; a staging of Santa Rosa author Greg Sarris' Joy Ride; You Move Me, a collaboration between dancers Stephen Pelton and Nina Wise; and Celtic harpist Patrick Bell and actor Peter Glazer's O'Carolan's Farewell to Music.

While exposing these pieces to a new and broader audience, the festival also allows performers an opportunity to practice their craft on a more regular basis. "This is a chance to provide consistent work for people of this caliber," Dower says. The studio zeroed in on Santa Cruz to expand its horizons because of a distinct fan base here. "We have a fairly large audience from Santa Cruz that has seen our shows on our mailing list--close to 500," Dower explains. "They've been requesting for us to come down and do something in the area. Some have even volunteered and helped us make this happen."

The performers are excited about the prospect of bringing their distinctive works to a new audience. "We had a [celebration] lunch at Oswald on Aug. 29, and all of the performers were able to attend," Dower says. "It was great to see all the people who attended--from local businesses, theater, the colleges and high schools. The performers are extremely excited. Plus, it's a great way to keep them working instead of sitting on a shelf waiting until they can be shuffled off to New York."

The Z Space Studio's Z Festival of New Performance begins this week with Kornbluth's Ben Franklin: Unplugged, running Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm at the Actors' Theatre, 1001 Center St., SC. The festival continues through Oct. 25. Tickets cost $12/$10. For more information on any of the shows, call 831/454-1898 or check out the Web site.
Karen Reardanz

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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