by Liz Stoeckel
Live theater is very much alive and kicking up its heels in the Central Valley. There’s absolutely no reason to grouse and grumble with “there’s nothing to do around here”. That’s just crazy talk.
In the past few years a number of seedling theater companies have been planted and are taking root. The Organic Theater Factory (OTF) in Fresno is one of the jewels that has sprouted and is beginning to blossom.
The multi-talented Anthony Taylor is the Artistic Director for OTF. Taylor has performed in several local theater productions, he writes copy for JP Marketing, and he’s a brilliant musician. Scott Hancock—Artistic Director for Cutting Edge Theater Project—says, “Anthony is one of the best saxophonists I’ve ever worked with. Whenever I’m putting a band or orchestra together that needs one, he’s my first phone call.”
The new theatrical journey that is OTF began in November 2009 with its inaugural show, The Last Five Years, which was directed by Danielle Jorn, and starred Ashley Taylor and Peter Allwine. Anthony Taylor was the musical director for that show (I told you he was multi-talented). In a FresnoBeehive.com review of the show, Donald Munro said, “This is theater that is small in scale, but enormous in impact.”
Isn’t that exactly what art is to the human spirit—something small that packs a whole lot of “Wow”? Live theater has the potential to touch the heart in a place no other experience can begin to reach.
I caught up with Anthony and asked him a few questions about OTF.
Liz: What is Organic Theater Factory, and what role did you play in its inception?
Anthony: The Organic Theater Factory is a theater company dedicated to producing Quality Theater in quality environments for the quality audience that is Fresno. I am the Artistic Director of the company and I formed it with Ashley Taylor, Peter Allwine and Danielle [Dani] Jorn.
Liz: Where is your performance venue?
Anthony: We don’t have a home performance venue. The shows that excite me aren’t large cast or large-scale productions. I think there are some fine companies in town with the resources to pull those types of productions off. (Stageworks Fresno, Musical Theatreworks Fresno, Good Company Players, Centerstage Clovis) Our first show was produced at The Star Palace on the Warnors Theatre property. Our next production, Glory Days is being produced in the intimate confines of The Voice Shop on Wishon Row.
Liz: How would you describe Organic Theater Factory?
Anthony: That’s a tough one. I’d describe it as a company that is really dedicated to being sure we’re biting off exactly what we can chew and delivering a quality product. It’s incredibly important that we don’t portray the Arts as a charity case in Fresno. If we charge a price for a ticket, it’s because that’s what it’s going to cost to produce the show. We aren’t a non-profit company, so I don’t like asking for anything more than what I’ve charged you to get in. To that end, we do smaller shows with lower production costs, BUT I whole-heartedly agree that our production VALUE is still equal to or greater than a movie. If I’m going to ask you to pay $12-15 for a ticket, I better be able to deliver the same quality as a movie.
Liz: Is OTF different from other theater experiences around The Valley? If so, how?
Anthony: I don’t know that we’re all that different from the other high quality theater companies in town. I’d say the fact that we don’t have a home venue and that we do pick much smaller shows is maybe a difference. We’re also committed to only using live music for musicals and we try and stay away from amplification as well. We used no microphones for The Last Five Years and we don’t intend to use any for Glory Days either.
Liz: What are you working on now?
Anthony: The Last Five Years went really well…then we all got busy with other performances and life. We’re now in pre-production for Glory Days, which will open at The Voice Shop on July 28th and will run through August 7th. I’ll be directing this great pop/rock musical under the musical direction of Terry Lewis and starring Taylor Babcock, Benjamin McNamera, Tyson Pyles and Daniel Rodriguez. It’s the story of four high school friends returning from their first year away at college and learning how to let go of the past and build a better future together.
Liz: What kind of energy do you need to be your best creative self?
Anthony: I’m a collaborator, so I need energy from people. I need to be around people and I need to work with people that are prepared to give some of themselves to the process. I love taking the various contributions of [individual] team members and morphing them into something even better.
Liz: Where do you find your inspiration?
Anthony: I’m a musician by trade first, so music is a huge inspiration to me. But if we’re talking about acting, I’m fascinated by relationships. I love watching someone create a character from scratch. I love seeing characters interact in a real, honest and thoughtful way. That’s where the meat of acting is for me and it’s something I intend to focus on in this show and future shows I have the opportunity to direct. ?
Liz: What’s in the future for OTF?
Anthony: After Glory Days in late July and early August, I’d love to start producing some original works. I’ve been working on a series of monologues that I may start morphing into a complete play. I know that Dani really wants to produce some Shakespeare in a really cool location, like maybe an empty office building or something. Ashley has been making rumblings about wondering what the musical Jane Eyre would look like as an OTF production. Peter just wants to Rent every year. So…who knows?
Anthony’s enthusiasm and energy is contagious and I’m excited to watch OTF grow and stretch its creative branches over the coming years. You can follow Organic Theater Factory on Facebook.