For Matt Eldridge and Tom Challinor, founders of Bainbridge Island’s newest theatrical company, inD Theatre, the quality of the content on stage is at least as important as the quality of professionalism behind it.
The duo’s guiding principals are twofold: All shows are free to attend, and all participants are compensated.
Those goals may seem at odds, but Eldridge and Challinor, themselves familiar fixtures of numerous island stages and past productions, insist they are not.
“There’s a really vibrant, dynamic performing arts ecosystem on the island, and we saw there being room, in addition to what’s happening, for artists to be compensated as a real need in the market,” Eldridge said. “There’s really a kind of a social justice aspect to it in giving artists — whether they be actors or directors or others — the opportunity to perform and be compensated for that.”
The average pro and semi-pro production, Challinor added, requires 15 to 20 hours of work for six or eight weeks.
“That’s a huge commitment of time,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be negative to perform. We’re not compensating like Hollywood … our compensation is significantly below that, but it is at a place where if you’re in our show it’s not going to cost you anything. We’re going to buy you a cup of coffee every day, your gas is covered, your ferry is covered, your childcare is covered.”
Bainbridge has no shortage of performing arts options; inD Theatre is at least the fifth, in addition to Island Theatre, Bainbridge Performing Arts and The EDGE Improv, The Lesser Known Players, and Ovation! Performing Arts Northwest, but, Challinor said, “As far as we know, we’re the only ones who compensate the actors.”
It attracts a consistently high caliber of talent, Challinor said, and sets the bar of expectation appropriately higher.
“One of the things that we’re going to be interested in seeing longer term is the degree to which the theater-going public on Bainbridge recognizes the difference between good acting and better acting,” he said. “There’s an amazing level of talent here.”
Regarding the nonexistent cost of admission, Eldridge said that too was part of the group’s quest for change.
“We believe very strongly that people should be able to attend regardless of ability to pay,” he said. “That’s an option in the market today, but we wanted to flip the model and that’s why all of our shows are free to attend. We will certainly be calling for donations, but our hope is that those who have deeper pockets and have a greater ability to pay will dig deeply and will generously support these efforts. And that those who are of more limited means will not hesitate to come to a performance.”
The founders of inD Theatre, in further service to the company’s quest to shake up the scene, said they intend to focus on producing new, obscure and more controversial works than typical regional theater groups.
“As Tom and I got started talking, kind of mulling over and cooking the concept, there were a few common themes where we shared a mindset and one is around social change — inspiring social change,” Eldridge said. “Part of that is providing a place for new works to be performed, and this [first] show fits into that bucket pretty squarely.”
The company’s debut season begins with “Closed for Maintenance” Friday, June 8 and Saturday, June 9 at Rolling Bay Hall.
Written by James E. Anderson, III and directed by Tony Award-winner Dinah Manoff, the show stars Ted Dowling and Shannon Dowling, and features live musical performances by Anya Flanagan and the Continental Sound Trio.
“If you’re a music-goer, you might feel like you went to a concert and a play broke out,” Challinor said. “And if you’re a theater person, you’ll feel like I went to a play and a concert broke out.”
At the time the Review went to press, reservations remained for standing room only for both shows.
“We’re going to squeeze in as many standing rooms as we can,” Challinor said. “Anybody who’s excited and wants in, we’re going to get you so that at least you’ll be able to hear, and probably see.”
The rest of the group’s debut season lineup includes:
“The North Plan” (Sept. 21-30), written by Jason Wells. A ruthless faction is seizing power in Washington, D.C. as an official runs off with the new regime’s top secret enemies list, pursued by DHS agents. The chase has ended in an Ozark police station. Revolution is in the air. Wilson Milam — whose critically acclaimed directing credits span New York, London and Seattle — directs this unsettling, politically charged, dark comedy.
“Under Milk Wood” (Nov. 8-11) by Dylan Thomas. In this vivid poetic-dramatic evocation of the variegated population of a small Welsh seaside town, Thomas strands humor and death-tinged melancholy through monologues, dialogues, vignettes and songs. Llareggub and its population spring to vibrant life, so intensely particular that they achieve universality. Thomas explores their lives, hopes and thoughts in the dreams of a night and the rhythm of a day.
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” (Dec. 22, 23) by Dylan Thomas. A half-hour tale with reading and live music. Thomas’ nostalgic, slightly misty-eyed prose, a character-rich description of Christmas from the point of view of a young child, is full of yearning for the innocence of childhood and the simplicity of times past
Some shows will be put on at Rolling Bay Hall, others are slated to be held in the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art auditorium, both smaller venues which inD Theatre officials said free them up to explore more experimental fare.
“The economics of theater are funny,” Eldridge said. “If you have a 200-plus seat house, in a way there’s a need to provide content that will draw an audience that fills that house. For us, we’ve got a bit more flexibility with a smaller venue to provide premieres of original works, to do a show like we’re in doing in September, which is very politically charged, very timely.”
Eldridge is an actor and producer. He earned a MBA from Yale and has performed recently in more than a dozen semi-professional and community theatre productions in Seattle and on Bainbridge Island.
Challinor is an actor, director and producer. He has a MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University and has mounted a number of theatrical productions. He founded the BPA Shakespeare Society for Bainbridge Performing Arts and directed the first three plays in the successful Bard at Bloedel series.
To learn more about the times and location of each show, visit www.indtheatre.org.