Scene One brings black box theater to Jefferson City.
photos by Andrew Richmond
Jefferson City might not be a theater mecca of the U.S., but for a mid-sized city, we have a talented and growing arts scene, in performing arts particularly. With The Little Theatre, Capital City Players, and The Stained Glass Theater, there are plenty of options to choose from — but if you haven’t experienced Scene One Theatre, you’re missing one of Jefferson City’s most progressive theater experiences.
So, what’s the hype? Another small theater, right? Wrong. Unbelievably wrong.
Scene One is a black box theater. This type of theater is relatively new, having gained popularity in the 1960s and ’70s. The allure of a black box theatre is in both its simplicity and flexibility: as a blank, unadorned black room with a level floor, the options are endless in both configuration and setting. Throughout one season, productions can be done in many distinctive ways, including “in the round,” where the audience surrounds the stage. In black box theatre, performers shine. The talent of actors takes center stage in a dramatic way when placed in the bare, small space. It requires a considerable amount of skill to engage the audience, but the expectation doesn’t stop with the actors. This intimate setting requires something of the audience too: imagination.
This particular black box theater came to fruition in 2005, when Mark and Tracy Wegman found a home for their theater group on High Street in downtown Jefferson City, before moving this past year to a new home on East Capitol. Mark and Tracy formed the theatre to bring a variety of work to Jefferson City, but Mark said an important part of Scene One’s mission is “to create a space where people who enjoy writing plays could perform things that they had written.”
The plays aren’t your mainstream works. The theater’s season schedule could be described as many things — avant-garde, thought-provoking, alternative, humorous, socially aware. The progressive and sometimes absurd list of plays at Scene One is easily seen by glancing at their season lineup. Works range from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a glam rock musical about a rock goddess who underwent a botched sex change operation, to the classic drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This might seem a little unusual, but it’s just another reason locals love attending Scene One.
Longtime patron DeAnne Rickabaugh says “the depth and breadth” of the plays is what stands out. She jokes, “Where else are you going to have Neil Simon plays next to ‘Evil Dead: The Musical’ next to a one-man rendition of ‘Hamlet’? No other venue within a decent drive can do that.”
In today’s world, I would argue that venues like Scene One are more important than ever. Theater has always been a source of entertainment, but also a source of learning and understanding — of sharing the ups and downs of the human condition, whether humorous, humiliating, or heartwarming. The best way to describe what Scene One brings to our community is enrichment. It enriches by challenging us to think and engage both in and out of the theater, with audience members, playwrights, and actors alike. Thanks to Scene One, local playwrights can see their work performed alongside playwrights from across the country.
One of Scene One’s biggest crowd-pleasers is its seasonal “short attention span theatre,” where various playwrights and directors show off their work in a series of 10-minute plays. Mel and Rita Kallal have been loyal fans for over three years. Mel says, “We attend all of the theaters in town, but Scene One is our No. 1 choice.” The venue first convinced the couple to try it, but the intimacy between the actors and audience kept them coming. “It just rounds out the theater scene in a way that even cities a good bit larger than Jefferson City don’t have,” Mel says.
When I asked Mark if he could share any moments that reinforced why he and Tracy had decided to start Scene One, his emotion was immediately evident — he got the “warm fuzzies” just thinking about it. He says there were countless moments throughout the years, “When we put together a night of short attention span theater and all the work that goes into it . . . knowing that it’s something that we created from scratch.”
About their tagline: “Theatre that’s bully.” When Scene One first formed, a friend of Mark’s, Matt Connor, drew a logo for the theatre that happened to resemble the one and only Teddy Roosevelt; the Teddy character inspired the catchphrase to be. “Bully” was one of the former president’s favorite exclamations, meaning “excellent” or “superb.” As faithful patrons can attest, the tagline couldn’t be a better fit.