Rising Phoenix, new community theater group based in Milwaukie
Susan Scovil is taking a leap into the unknown by starting Rising Phoenix Theater, a community theater group based in Milwaukie.
"I wanted to do more theater," the Oak Grove resident said, adding, "I think Milwaukie has an abundance of car lots, so why not more theater."
The final performance of the group's first production, "Short Attention Span Theater," is a staged reading of four short plays. It will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Ledding Library Pond House, 10660 S.E. 21st Ave., Milwaukie. Admittance is free, but donations are accepted.
Previous performances of "Short Attention Span Theater" took place at Eastridge Church in Clackamas and at the Oak Lodge Library in Oak Grove.
The production takes its name from the fact that it showcases four plays that are about 10 to 15 minutes long, so "if you don't like one play, another one is coming up," Scovil said.
The plays are not recommended for children under 12, because they feature "very smart concepts that children would not intellectually connect with," she said.
Three of the plays are by David Ives and one is by Alan Ball, who is best known for writing "American Beauty" and for creating "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood."
The Ives plays come from "All In The Timing," a collection of one-acts first published in 1994.
"The Philadelphia" is a comedy that will remind people that everybody has days when they can't get what they want.
"When that happens, people say you're in a Philadelphia," Scovil said.
"Words, Words, Words" illustrates what might happen if three monkeys were locked in a room with typewriters.
"They are being studied by an off-stage professor and one of the monkeys starts plotting revenge against him," Scovil said.
And then there is "Dr. Fritz," described as an "abstract piece about a tourist who goes into a souvenir shop looking for Dr. Fritz food poison. It's very bizarre, but very funny," she said.
Ball wrote the fourth play, "Your Mother's Butt," which is about "a therapist trying to help her patient, who seems obsessed with clothing," Scovil said.
For "Short Attention Span Theater," Scovil did not hold auditions, but instead put out a call on Facebook and cast the play with the five actors who responded. They each play several roles.
"Suzanne Chimenti and I went to high school together; she is a music teacher who plays four different instruments," Scovil said. Jaron Christman is one of her ex-students, and James Lawrence is a well-known local actor who is also a family friend.
Scovil and cast member Linda McBroom met when they were in a commercial together, and Scovil and Angela Michtom were in "Play On," a New Century Players production in 2015.
Scott Walker, the drama teacher at Milwaukie High School, will step in for Lawrence in the final performance of "Short Attention Span Theater."
Scovil knew there wasn't time to produce a three-act play, with actors in full costumes and props and lighting.
"We needed to start small, and I have no money set aside, so I made up my own genre," she said, calling this first production a staged reading. The four plays she chose are all "dialogue driven; we use some props and have a little bit of blocking.
"People think that a staged reading is actors sitting down reading from notebooks on music stands, but I did not want notebooks and music stands," she said. "I wanted the actors to be able to interact and figured the audience will get that they are looking at a script."
Although this is the first community theater company Scovil has founded, she has plenty of directing experience as the drama teacher at Clackamas High School for 17 years; she retired in 2011.
With Rising Phoenix, Scovil wants to "serve the community and to serve actors who are coming back to theater or trying it for the first time. There is an element of fear, doing something new. But I feel capable of doing it and the community needs more options for theater."
In live theater there is an "electricity between actors and an audience that you can't get at the movies. You can't get that any other way," she said.
Scovil chose to name the new group Rising Phoenix Theater, after reflecting that the name represents "the feeling I had in starting this adventure." The name signifies "a rebirth of doing what I love, a new life in the theater, [and] another chance for me and for others who love theater.
"I also thought about how a play has many lives, and it's a beautiful thing in how each group who takes it on brings it to life in their own unique way. It exists for the length of the production, and then it dies and is gone until another theater brings it back to life."
Scovil added: "Each play is the phoenix. Each performance is a phoenix; new and beautiful rising from the passion of the performers, the director, the crew and the audience."
The next step for the fledgling theater company is finding a space where the group can perform.
The Eastridge Church has a "wonderful theater venue," Scovil said, adding that she co-wrote and directed a production there during the holiday season. She also noted how nice and helpful staff have been at both the Oak Lodge Library and the Ledding Library.
While Scovil would like to put together an improv group that could perform almost anywhere, and also loves children's theater, right now she is trying to figure out what to do next.
When she first came up with the idea of starting a new theater group but was hesitant to begin, Scovil received some good advice from former student James Larson, who is now an actor living in New York.
He told her to "do what you can and have fun," she said.
What: Rising Phoenix Theater presents "Short Attention Span Theater"
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10
Where: Ledding Library Pond House, 10660 S.E. 21st Ave., Milwaukie.
Details: Admittance is free, but donations are accepted. Not recommended for children under 12.