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Troupe tries new approach to Columbus theater

Company 'takes chances' on local, unknown works, demonstrated in recent staging of six one-acts

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JOSHUA A. BICKEL/THISWEEKNEWS
Amanda Elaine Dyke and Jim LeVally act during a performance of "Consider the Source," one of the six one-act plays staged during Evolution Theater Company's Festival of Plays on May 1 at the Van Fleet Theater in downtown Columbus. Clintonville playwright Cory Skurdal wrote the one-act play.

Evolution Theatre Company started out under the umbrella of another troupe.

But then, well, it evolved.

"We don't do your run-of-the-mill theater productions," said Mark Phillips Schwamberger, managing director of the troupe. "We do new works by new playwrights."

An independent nonprofit since 2011, Evolution last week stayed true to its stated mission of bringing new and seldom-seen works to central Ohio theatergoers with a second Festival of Plays by local playwrights. The staging of six one-act plays at the Van Fleet Theatre in the Columbus Performing Arts Center included works by Clintonville residents David Meyers and Cory Skurdal, as well as writers Ellie Anderson, Sheldon Gleisser and Robert Flanagan, Jonrick Hole and Jack Peterson.

"It can be difficult for writers to get their works noticed, so the more opportunities, the more options there are out there locally for theater companies, the better," Skurdal said. "That's a positive for writers. For the public, I think it's somewhat a positive to have more theater groups, although whether they choose to attend live theater is another thing."

"Very few theaters are willing to take a chance on an unknown play," Meyers wrote in an email.

That's where Evolution Theatre Company's founder, Paul Lockwood -- now artistic director emeritus -- and Schwamberger decided to step in, originally producing a play under the auspices of another local group in 2008 before branching off. The two of them, Schwamberger said, felt that while Columbus has a number of good theater groups, most concentrate only on mainstream and classic works -- either Shakespeare or musical staples, along with children's productions.

"There weren't many theater companies around that were taking risks ... for things that could be considered provocative or controversial or dealing with gay issues or bullying or things like that," said Schwamberger, who lives in the Upper Arlington area.

"That's why it is important to have an Evolution Theatre Company," Meyers wrote. "It offers an opportunity for some new voices to be heard. Not only that, it attracts some very good actors.

"I couldn't have been more pleased with what they did with my play."

"Each year our audience has grown," Schwamberger said. "We are concentrating on drawing a younger audience that is more open to something new and more apt to come to see things they're not familiar with.

"It is a challenge, but that's why we developed Evolution Theatre Company," he said. "Has it been a struggle? Of course it has. Having a theater company is a struggle. Theater is a risk across the board."

Evolution exists not only to provide a home for plays of local writers, the managing director said, but also to help display the talents of actors and others involved in putting on theatrical works.

"We don't bring in talent from other parts of the country," Schwamberger said. "We use all local talent so they can practice their craft."

Although Evolution puts on primarily small-scale plays, such as the upcoming Elizabeth Rex fantasy-history play about Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, set June 1-14, the troupe also is planning a production of the pop-rock show Bare the Musical Sept. 11-20, Schwamberger said.

The musical, currently running off-Broadway, "follows a group of teens wrestling with issues of identity, sexuality and religion at a co-ed Catholic boarding school," according to the website for the work.

"I think there's room in Columbus, Ohio, for our type of theater as well as traditional theater companies," Schwamberger said.

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