Sharman Altshuler spent 15 years as a veterinarian before launching Moonbox Productions. Within four short seasons, her company, which produces just two shows each year, earned raves for “Floyd Collins” and an Elliot Norton Award nomination for “Of Mice and Men,” the company’s third and fourth productions, both mounted in 2012. Moonbox has also made a commitment to nonprofit service organizations, to which it offers both publicity at performances and a portion of the ticket sales.
Moonbox’s next production is “Company,” Stephen Sondheim’s musical about relationships and commitment, which begins performances Friday and runs through March 1. With this production, the company takes another leap, moving from the Plaza Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts into the larger Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion. Altshuler took a break from her production responsibilities to meet in Harvard Square and talk about her company.
Q. What made you decide to start Moonbox?
A. I’ve always loved theater. The arts have always been tantalizing to me, but vocationally I was drawn to the sciences. But my friend Allison Choat and I were talking one night about how much we both like the musical “Godspell.” She’s a director, and we thought, Why not? Our approach was sort of whimsical, but we were bowled over, first by the level of talent among the actors who auditioned, then by the response from the audience. In our first outing, we nearly sold out three nights at the Brattle Theatre. We’ve followed that same whimsical approach, choosing to produce the shows we love. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Q. What’s your role in the company?
A. I’m the producer and artistic director, so I’m responsible for making sure we have enough money to produce the show, and I negotiate the contracts, but I am also involved in casting the shows, building and painting sets, and running the followspot. For me, it’s been a huge learning experience that’s exciting and humbling. Theater is incredibly collaborative in the purest sense of the word, and I really enjoy going to a design meeting where a group of people decide together what a show is going to look like. One of the fun things about my job is that I go to see a lot of plays now so that I can scout out talent. I suppose the best analogy is fantasy football. I see people in one show and envision them in the one we’re planning.
Q. How did you choose “Company”?
A. Allison and Dan [Rodriguez, musical director and composer] had sent me the original cast recording, but I didn’t connect to it until, at a cast party for [the 2013 Moonbox production] “A New Brain,” Peter Mill sang “The Ladies Who Lunch.” I loved his performance, and it made me go back and really listen to the score and the story. I love the fact that the central character, Bobby, is a guy who just can’t commit. I know Stephen Sondheim is mounting a new Broadway production in which Bobby is openly gay, and I’m looking forward to seeing it, but I think not defining why he can’t make a commitment to a relationship leaves more room for the audience to draw their own conclusions. I’m very excited about this production because we’ve worked with at least half of the cast before, and the chemistry between the couples is amazing.
Q. Can you explain Moonbox’s partnership with other nonprofits?
A. I’ve been involved with lots of nonprofits, and I know one of their biggest challenges is getting the word out. I thought, well, if we have 230 people under one roof, it’s an opportunity for them to give their pitch. It’s really more about friend-raising than fund-raising, although we do donate a portion of the ticket sales. The nonprofit we’re working with for “Company” is Music for Food, which is a musician-led initiative to fight hunger in local communities.
Q. Where do you see Moonbox going in the next few years?
A. I like the two-shows-a-year schedule. I have kids, and everyone we work with has other jobs and other interests. I think not being immersed in the company full time gives us the flexibility to try different things. I would love to see Moonbox produce new plays. I think there are a lot of great writers in this town, and that would be a great addition to what we already do.
Q. Where will you be on opening night?
A. I’m usually running the followspot, which is my favorite job, but for this production, for the first time I will be sitting in the audience, cheering along with everyone else.