Is there room in central Ohio for yet another theater group, on top of the dozen-plus that already exist?
"That's a good question," acknowledged Douglas C. Shaffer.
It's one that he and two friends who have known and worked with each other for more than 30 years are answering with a resounding, "Yes!"
Shaffer, who graduated from Centennial High School in 1978, two years after it opened, and still lives on the Northwest Side, has joined with Beth Nuzum Cronenweth and Scott A. Jones to form the Performing Arts Creative Ensemble, or PACE.
The troupe's premiere production, of Ira Levin's 1978 comedy thriller "Deathtrap," will be staged at the Columbus Dance Theatre, 592 E. Main St.
Performances are set for 8 p.m. July 19, 21, 27 and 28 with a matinee at 3 p.m. July 29. General-admission tickets cost $15. They go on sale at the box office 30 minutes prior to curtain time.
For more information call 614-219-9335 or email email@example.com.
The new group's website is pacecolumbus.com.
Shaffer will serve as artistic director for PACE. Nuzum Cronenweth, who lives in German Village, is manager director, while Dublin resident Jones, director of operations at the Northland Performing Arts Center, has the title of technical director.
"We thought about that," Shaffer said during a recent rehearsal of the inaugural play, regarding the question of the Columbus area having room for a new acting troupe. "I guess my feeling on the subject is, can you have too much art?"
Shaffer, who has directed community, regional and semiprofessional theater in Nashville, Tennessee, and Columbus, including at the Little Theatre Off Broadway in Grove City and at Worthington Community Theatre, said he first met Scott in 1985, and has known Nuzum Cronenweth since 1986.
Nuzum Cronenweth has been an actor, music director and conductor for productions in Columbus, Pittsburgh and Charlotte, North Carolina. After a 14-year hiatus from theater, she returned to it four years ago.
Scott, in addition to being a "theater junky," according to the PACE website, directs the marching band Jonathan Alder High School.
"He has worked in almost all aspects and disciplines of theater, including actor, singer, dancer, director, choreographer, costume designer, set designer, technical director and administrator," according to the PACE website.
The three longtime friends have been in various productions with numerous troupes over the years, and often kicked around the idea of starting one of their own at wrap parties or post-performance gatherings at bars, according to Shaffer.
Most recently, Jones, Nuzum Cronenweth and Schaffer were all involved in a trio of Imagine Productions musicals at the Northland Performing Arts Center -- "Jesus Christ, Superstar," "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Reefer Madness" -- and the notion of launching a theatrical enterprise came up again.
"It was amazing how quickly we fell into each other's rhythm," Shaffer said.
"I trust him implicitly," Nuzum Cronenweth said of Shaffer. "He's the best director I've worked with. If he wanted to do it, I wanted to be there with him."
"We want to make enjoyable theater for the audience, staff, volunteers, anybody and everybody," Scott said. "It's just theater. It should be easy."
Scott noted the many years the three friends have worked together.
"We've seen the wrong way to do it, the bad way to do it," he said. "Hopefully, we're on to the good way to do it."
PACE has plans for a second production this year, "Crimes of the Heart" in November, and a trio in 2019, including "Blithe Spirit" in April, "The Who's Tommy" in July and "The Runner Stumbles in September."
However, they said they will take it one play at a time initially to see how welcoming audiences are to the new troupe, Shaffer said.
"We don't have any delusions of grandeur," he said.
"We kind of have free rein to show a new generation some shows that might not be done much any more, things that used to be done a lot," Nuzum Cronenweth said. "We want to just show what great playwriting is out there."