Thursday, July 13, 2006
It is rare that one looks to the field of pharmacology for theatrical inspiration, but if it weren’t for the fact that the girlfriend of Davis Musical Theater Company music director Erik Daniels was attending pharmacology school in Stockton, we might not be looking at the birth of “Artistic Differences,” the latest Sacramento area theater company to get its start in Davis.
Daniels, a 23 year old music student in piano performance at Sac State, has been in theater most of his life. He played his first show with the DMTC’s Young Performer’s Theater at the age of 12. By age 13 Steve Isaacson had hired him as the resident accompanist for DMTC. For the past 10 years he has been musical director for most of the DMTC shows. He has also worked with the Woodland Opera House and the Runaway Stage, and produced shows at the Natomas Charter School.
But that didn’t seem to be enough. On his long drives back and forth to Stockton, he began to think of all the under-produced shows that he would like to produce himself. “I hadn’t really intended to start a theater company. It kind of happened in reverse,” he said.
“I’d be on these long drives and think that I wanted to produce a show. I had a list of 5-10 shows, some of which were a little ambitious (like “A Little Night Music”). A friend suggested ‘Falsettos.’ and I thought ‘It’s the perfect show.’
Daniels had seen the show at UC Davis and fell in love with it. “The score is incredible and it has a strong message about family and people overcoming obstacles, about life and death. I think the show is as relevant now as ever, talking about ‘what is a family?’ It may even be more relevant now than it was originally. And the music is wonderful.”
Once he’d chosen a show, ideas for a new theater company began to flow. He invited people he had worked with in other companies to audition for the 7-member cast. “I want to have a lot of actors from different areas, not just Davis.” Joining the cast for Falsettos, then, were Margaret Hollenbeck from Runaway Stage, Kevin Carvalho, Jessie Stein and Kristen Wagner, from DMTC, Greg Howard who has worked in Sacramento and at the Woodland Opera House, Jerry Lee, from Magic Circle in Roseville, and as Jason, who is the young boy in the show, newcomer, Joey Harris.
Finding a venue was never a problem. DMTC had blocks of time between productions, and Steve Isaacson was glad to give his young protege, whom he describes as “incredibly talented” an opportunity to mount his show at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center.
Speaking like a proud Papa, Isaacson said, “Doc Larsen at Sac State said something wonderful to his alumni: ‘go out and do theater.’ Jan and I have been able do that and now we can help give a venue to help other people grow and express themselves creatively.”
With the show chosen and cast, someone asked Daniels, “what’s the next show your company is doing?” “I thought ‘Oh--I’m not really a company, but ...oh...that’s an interesting idea...’” Just like that a company was born.
The fledgling company didn’t have a name, other than the unimaginative “Erik Daniels Productions.” “We went through some jokes and I suggested “how about ‘Artistic Differences’ because it implies conflict and why would you want to have that message? and I thought--wait! I actually like that name.’ So we stuck with it and here we are.”
To get the word out and publicize the upcoming production, Daniels staged a special preview show at the Hoblit Performing Arts Center, featuring songs from the upcoming production of “Falsettos,” as well as songs from a wide range of musicals from the contemporary: Tony Award winner “Urinetown”; the newly emerging: “The Last Five Years” and “A New Brain”; to the rarely produced: “Chess” and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award winning classics, “A Little Night Music” and “Assassins.”
“It’s not that we’re competing with other theater companies for audience,” said Daniels. “We’re more set to complement other companies’ shows.”
The preview show was a great success.
“I accomplished what I wanted, which was to to educate people. There are so many shows out there that no one knows. I want to spread the awareness that there is more to theater than ‘Annie.’ People were coming up to me and saying ‘I’ve never heard of this show. I love it! I want to buy the soundtrack.’”
Despite his young age, Daniels has a solid head on his shoulders, and many years watching what works and doesn’t work in theater. He has set the wheels in motion for choosing an artistic committee to decide on future shows. He also knows he cannot function without a Board of Directors to handle the financial side. “One thing with the board is they have to agree not to be in a show. I definitely want someone who loves theater and wants to see this succeed, but who doesn’t want to be on stage. Someone very business minded who has new ways to make a theater company work. We have to do a lot of work with grant writing, so we have to spend a lot of time on that.”
Historically, Davis has provided a wonderful atmosphere for encouraging artistic enterprises and many a theater company has started small and gone on to flourish in this nurturing environment, (and some have not). Whether “Artistic Differences” will be one of those companies which “make it” or whether it will be short-lived remains to be seen, but if enthusiasm and organization have anything to do with it, I feel that we will see a lot more of “Artistic Differences,” as it settles into the theatrical community of Davis.