The Factory Theatre will host its own wake.
The final production in the venue, the Happy Medium Theatre production of Naomi Iizuka’s “Language of Angels,” will also commemorate the Factory’s role as an incubator for fringe theater.
The 49-seat venue at 791 Tremont St. in the Piano Craft Guild apartment building is set to close Oct. 31, its lease not renewed by the landlord, who intends to use the space for a fitness center or other tenant amenity. Happy Medium is one of three resident companies that had to start over in planning their seasons when the news came in July.
“We did not know if we were going to be able to pull it off,” says artistic director Mikey DiLoreto.
“Language of Angels” is a ghost story of sorts, set in a cave near a small North Carolina town, where the local teenagers hang out to party and hook up. A girl named Celie dies there one night, and one of her friends is responsible. The play charts how all of their lives are changed by the incident.
The cave is the sort of place that is both dangerous and irresistible to teens, “like the Quincy quarries,” says DiLoreto, and Factory fans will be asked to help create the set. The walls of the theater will be painted black, he says, and at the beginning of the play’s run, Factory fans will be invited to tag the walls with graffiti — only instead of street names, they’ll be asked for words or images denoting their memories of the space.
In addition, the audience will enter the “cave” in a candlelight procession before each performance, he says, suggesting both self-serious teenage adventure and a memorial procession for the venue.
At the beginning of the play’s run, Factory fans will be invited to tag the theater’s walls with graffiti — only instead of street names, they’ll be asked for words or images denoting their memories of the space.
While those ideas came from director Lizette M. Morris, DiLoreto says, the production has already been changed by events.
“Language of Angels” was originally scheduled to run primarily on weekends from Oct. 24 to Nov. 8, a run that would have been cut short by two-thirds when the theater closes. Now Happy Medium is fitting in at least nine shows between Oct. 18 and Oct. 30, the earlier dates made available by a cancellation, he says. The company could do as many as 12 shows if there’s demand.
Factory executive director Greg Jutkiewicz says that he has recently received the landlord’s OK to extend the closing date to Nov. 2 if Happy Medium wants to run through that weekend. But the more important news for local theater may be that he is already eyeing a new space in the South End “that has some potential” for conversion to a small theater, and he’s having a second meeting with the owners next week.
Fringe theater budgets are small, and the Factory had the cheapest rents around, at about $900 a week. Three or four non-resident companies also lost Factory bookings with the closure, Jutkiewicz said.
While companies are making new plans for the 2014-15 season, the theater community looks for longer-term solutions. Stage Source, a nonprofit organization that serves the city’s theater community, will hold a “space summit” Sept. 6 at its office in Fort Point with the underlying question: “Five years down the road, where’s the new Factory Theatre?” City arts officials are also trying to find ways to help.
The fringe troupe Sleeping Weazel was set to become a Factory resident company in 2015. Artistic director Charlotte Meehan says losing that opportunity has her talking to various other venues, including the Chelsea Theatre Works, home of the Apollinaire Theatre Company, as well as to city officials about opportunities at the Strand in Dorchester. But she’s far from making a plan.
Fringe companies are important for a lot of reasons, says Julie Hennrikus, executive director of Stage Source.
“Because of their size, they can be more inventive, they can take risks that other people can’t take,” Hennrikus says. “They’re a place for people to hone their craft, to find out who they are and take risks personally as artists.” They also provide an opportunity for people to see theater who can’t or won’t pay to see big-ticket plays and musicals, she says.
As it turns out, the fallout from the Factory closing is not all bad for its three resident companies.
Fresh Ink Theatre Company will actually be moving up to larger venues at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre for two productions this season, says literary director Jessie Baxter, although “we did have to move our dates.”
Fresh Ink will present “Distant Neighbors” by Patrick Gabridge Dec. 5-13 at BPT’s 75-capacity back theater, instead of in November at the Factory. And “Chalk,” by Walt McGough, will play the venue’s 99-capacity front theater Jan. 9-24, three weeks earlier than planned.
The new dates mean a quick pivot at the busy holiday time. “It’s manageable, but it’s definitely going to be tight,” says Baxter. The company will have a lot more tickets to sell, too, but “it’s a challenge we’re up for.”
Fresh Ink is still looking for a venue for its spring production, however.
The resident Science Fiction Theatre Company will present its fall show, “The Singularity” by Crystal Jackson, Sept. 19-Oct. 5 at the Factory as planned. But as for its spring show, planned for March 16-April 5 at the Factory, “we’re still kind of up in the air in terms of where we are going to go,” artistic director Vincent Ularich says cheerfully.
He means “go” both artistically and logistically. The troupe is conceptualizing a “devised theater” piece that it would create through improvisation and present in a “non-traditional” space, possible more than one. Much is to be decided.
“Obviously [the closing] has put a lot on our plate in terms of finding out what our next step is going to be,” Ularich says. “We were planning to use our time at the Factory to grow and expand to the next stage in our company’s evolution, and this has thrown a wrench in that.”
Collaborations are the hallmark of Happy Medium’s new plans for the rest of the season. The company will co-produce a play with the troupe Argos Productions in March, “Lifers” by John Shea and Maureen Cornell, at the BPT.
Next summer, Happy Medium will downsize even from the modest confines of the Factory to put on a “home invasion” production of the two-character “Dying City” by Christopher Shinn, set in an apartment near ground zero after 9/11. The plan: a three-night premiere engagement in DiLoreto’s East Boston apartment, followed by one-off shows in other homes around the city and as far away as Cape Cod and Vermont. Audiences will have to fit into a living room.
The plan was inspired by Theatre on Fire’s home-invasion shows. When Happy Medium contacted that company’s producing artistic director, Darren Evans, to ask for his blessing, he also offered advice and assistance as needed. “He loaned us a wheelchair once,” DiLoreto says, a not unusual sort of fringe-theater relationship.
An after-‘Dinner’ talk
While no fringe company has yet taken a shot at the Strand, the Huntington Theatre Company is hosting an event there to coincide with its upcoming production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by Todd Kreidler. On Aug. 27, director David Esbjornson and star Malcolm-Jamal Warner will hit the Strand for a discussion following a 7 p.m. screening of the original 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Sidney Poitier. The screening and discussion are free and open to the public, but RSVPs are encouraged at www.huntingtontheatre.org/StrandRSVP. WCVB’s Karen Holmes Ward will host.Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.