The brainchild of actor/director Eric Davis may not yet have a permanent home, but Davis and producing director Kevin Lane have been negotiating with building owners in St. Petersburg and Tampa, and think it's possible they could close a deal within a few months. In the meantime, Davis — the company's artistic director — already has a full six-play 2010-2011 season plotted out, and has arranged for the company's first two shows — the Scottish musical Rooms and the Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — to appear at The [email protected] in September and at the end of October. Looking further down the line, Davis is hoping for freeFall to become a 200-or-so seat member of the League of Regional Theatres, with a resident company of actors to be employed year-round, and cutting-edge productions of Shakespeare and contemporary dramas and musicals. His nonprofit theater already has a board of directors and enough financial backing — in the form of pledges — to guarantee it a good start, he says, and plans include for average ticket prices to stand at around an affordable $30. All that's missing is the house.
Not that Davis and Lane haven't been searching. "We've been looking at spaces for about a year now," says Davis. "And we've tried to buy a few buildings at this point." Among the pieces of real estate that freeFall tried to acquire was the old American Stage venue on Third St. S in St. Pete, but, as in the other cases, both sides couldn't settle on a price. Still, "we've come very close several times, and actually we think we're very close to something now," says Davis.
If it's still not clear where the company's home will be, there's no lack of clarity in other aspects of Davis' planning. He says freeFall will be a full Equity (union) theater, and at first will employ actors from the Bay area, from Orlando and New York. "But once we're able to have a resident company, then we'll be bringing people from wherever they are for a year at a time." At the beginning, Davis will direct most of the plays — "because I think it's important for us to establish a strong voice and a strong overall vision for the company" — but later, he'll look for other directors who can work within that vision. By freeFall's second or third year, Davis wants to have a company "that trains together and works together" — and by the fifth year he'd like to produce shows "in some sort of repertory schedule, where we have more than one thing running at a time."
As to freeFall's first season, Davis says that it will begin with two shows at The [email protected] and, hopefully, four shows in the new space. The first play will be the two-person Off-Broadway musical Rooms, by Paul Scott Goodman. "He's an incredible composer who wrote the musical Bright Lights, Big City," says Davis. "And it's an exciting rock score. It's a love story set against the backdrop of the emergence of the punk rock scene in Glasgow in 1977." The second play, to "straddle" Halloween, will be Hatcher's adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde. Six actors play all the parts, and "the guy who plays Jekyll never plays Hyde." It's "kind of a thinking man's thriller," says Davis. "It's very ... visceral and scary and bloody and psychological and has some interesting things to say about human nature and about the battle of good and evil inside the human spirit." As to the rest of the season: it will include two other musicals and two other straight plays. One of the plays could very well be a Shakespeare comedy, and one of the shows will take place (as did freeFall's The Wild Party in 2008) "in a set that includes the audience." The show that opens the new space "would be pertinent to the notion of opening a theater."
Davis says that he has many models for what he'd like freeFall to be, but one in particular stands out: the Oregon Shakespeare Company in Ashland, Oregon. "The quality of their work and the scope of their work and the variety of their work I find inspiring. ... I think it's the best theater that I've ever seen." With that company in mind, Davis says, "I would imagine us doing Shakespeare often if not every season." And Davis adds that he'd like theatergoers to know, even before they see a freeFall show, that they're in for an evening of highest quality.
Why not? After all, Wild Party was easily the best locally-produced show of the last decade.
I don't want to speak too soon. But freeFall is coming.
And it may turn the local theater scene upside down.