The Davis native, a student of Hanneke Lohse and Pamela Trokanski (among others) has been teaching dance at the Davis Art Center and the Davis Holistic Health Center. Nutter attended college at Purchase College (State University of New York) and at Antioch College in Ohio. He studied at the Conservatory of Dance, produced his own dance shows and ran an independent improv dance troupe.
But after his return to Davis, he decided he wanted to start a theater. Seeing a niche in this community that has a musical theater company (DMTC), a couple of groups devoted to Shakespeare (the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble and the university’s Shakespeare on a Shoestring) and a group that does both musicals and comedies (Woodland Opera House), he realized that nobody was really doing contemporary modern drama.
He started the fledgling Art Theater of Davis with some friends he knew from ballet. Ania Mieszkowska, for example, is a director, teacher and theater practitioner to more than 30 years experience in the United States and England. She moved to Davis with family nine years ago. Since her arrival, she has worked as a drama coach and taught ballet and Pilates at The Davis Art Center, Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop and Applegate Studio.
Once they had the seed of an idea, the next step was finding a venue. Nutter first talked with various churches in Davis. His first thought was to produce something by Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Marie Rilke.
“I thought, people like Rilke so we’ll put something together that will be fun, different and interesting,” he said.
But he ran into rental problems.
“To have a one-day event in a church is plausible, but to put on a theater event that runs for a few weeks takes so much more time. You have to control lights, space, etc., people in and out, set pieces, noise, etc. And God forbid there might be some kind of content problem or ideological conflict. That was a dream that died on the vine,” he said.
Event insurance was also a problem, as the theater company would have to cover insurance at a church venue, which could run into thousands of dollars for the two-week run of a show.
And then he found Third Space, the multipurpose space housing shops, studios, workshops and the like on Olive Drive behind Redrum Burger. He talked with the owner to ask if he would allow a theater to start in his building. It was perfect, with affordable rental rate and no insurance problems.
They created a little gem of a theater that seats 40 to 50 people (on folding chairs, some of which have padded seats), but is just perfect for the kinds of plays Nutter wished to produce.
“It’s been pretty good,” he says. “They didn’t realize how serious we were about changing part of their building, and they didn’t realize how much furniture we were going to be storing here, but it’s been a positive all around because I personally cleaned up a lot of the space and took out shelving they didn’t want anyway. We’re using a room that was underutilized and now it’s a theater, so it’s been good for everyone.”
There has really only been one big problem, so far — where to store all the set pieces, especially when the flea market is being held once a month. “My biggest fear was that someone would buy one of our set pieces!” Nutter said.
For help in casting his show, he joined the Sacramento Area Regional Theater Alliance and advertised through that group, as well as an ad in The Enterprise and individual emails to people Nutter knew who were doing the same kinds of plays he was interesting in putting on.
A multi-talented guy, Nutter also did all the graphic design and printing, so he made up fliers that he put up all over Davis.
“I have no web design skills so couldn’t create a web page other than the Davis Wiki,” he said. “I hadn’t joined Facebook, but then the people I was working with said there is no way you can do this without joining Facebook, so I set up a page on that social media.”
Next came the problem of money. “We started in my garage with my bank account — and I’m a dance teacher,” he said with a laugh. “I just sold off some of my estate and we had lots of lucre to work with.
“That was part of the push for Facebook, but what we did was a funding campaign (like Kickstarter), and 29 or 30 people donated to help us get money to rent costumes and house money to work with for buying lumber, paint, etc.,” he added. “It has mostly been publicized by me, my friends and the 12-actor cast.”
When he first began this project, Nutter thought he would do one play and see what happens, but as he got into it, it seemed that the best way to get funding was to have a plan in mind, which involved not only his first production, but future productions as well.
“Now that the first has come together and we learned we could raise money for this one and people are happy and excited, I’m planning to do more,” he said. “The next play would be a Brecht in the spring and I’m hoping to do another production in the summer and fall.
“My plan is not to go away. I talked with UCD but they have no plans for summer. I was able to rent costumes from the theater department. They were very helpful.”
Nutter sees his new theater as giving more opportunity for people outside of university to perform.
“We need more people,” he said. In fact, he had to write two minor characters out of “Three Sisters” because he couldn’t find 14 actors.
With the success of “Three Sisters,” it is hoped that there will be more interest in future productions, both in actors and in audience. While this is not a conventional theater, it’s easy to find, parking is sufficient and you can stop at Redrum Burger for dinner on your way to the show.
And with good production values and talented actors, it should become a real asset for Davis.