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Play-full firm finds discs fringe benefits

While production titans like Wayne Paige and Bruce Sturgill tout the advantages of DVDs to businesses, Gary Cole sees DVDs heading for the fringe.

Fringe theater, that is. Loosely defined as aggressively independent and frequently local small-stage productions, fringe theater plays the lead in Cole's latest venture. Cole, a former CIA agent and Ball Janik attorney, has started StageDirect Inc., an enterprise that identifies fringe theater productions nationwide for release on video and, starting later this year, DVD.

StageDirect's four-person staff finds productions it deems worthy of distribution ('Our artistic director, Jeff Meyers, is an alternative weekly junkie: He reads the equivalent of Willamette Week in a dozen places,' Cole said), then works, during taping, to preserve the production's intimacy.

It sells digitally shot and edited videos and DVDs through its Web site, employing a twist on the 'just-in-time' inventory tactic by dubbing the products after orders are placed.

'We have very little inventory,' said Cole, a co-founder of CoHo Productions and a player in the Portland theater community.

Along with the Web site sales, Cole hopes to market the productions to television networks, video and DVD rental stores and in-room hotel entertainment services. StageDirect, Cole said, is demonstrating the product in rooms in downtown Portland's Avalon Hotel & Spa.

Cole said the videos and DVDs cost approximately $25,000 to produce, but the medium's margins are high enough that StageDirect will rapidly earn back its costs. StageDirect hopes to distribute eight fringe productions on video and DVD this year.

'I wouldn't have walked away from my law practice with two little kids at home if I thought this wouldn't work.'

ÑÊAndy Giegerich