.Theater: Local legend

Left Edge Theatre carries on tradition

by David Templeton

Perhaps you remember this.

There was once a tiny theater tucked into a corner of the Luther Burbank Center, at the northernmost edge of Santa Rosa. From the way people talk about it today, it’s hard to believe that such a place was ever real. Though the space itself is gone, replaced almost 10 years ago by offices and storage space at the center (since renamed The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts), the shows that were performed at Actors Theater during its mighty reign have lingered on in the memories of North Bay theater fans and artists alike. Some of those productions—Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Joan Ackermann’s Off the Map—have fully become the stuff of local theater legend.

“It was an amazing time, and the best artists in the area did great work there,” says Argo Thompson, who joined the company after its foundation, and served as artistic director of Actors Theater from 1997 to 2005. “The goal of the company was to champion small, contemporary theater, with an emphasis on things that had never been produced in the area before. It changed the scene completely, proving that when groundbreaking theater is being done by first-rate artists, people will make the effort to come see it.”

The theater soon earned such a stellar reputation that audiences from around Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties—and even as far away as Berkeley and San Francisco—would make the drive to Santa Rosa to see what was happening at Actors Theater.

Thompson was there when the company—formerly a breakaway from the long-established Santa Rosa Players—rejoined the Players to create 6th Street Playhouse, folding both companies into one under the 6th Street banner. After serving as executive director of 6th Street for three years, a reorganization of management effectively ended Thompson’s participation in the North Bay and Sonoma County theater scene for the next decade.

“With the exception of directing the occasional production of The Santaland Diaries, with David Yen, I have been out of the scene for 10 years,” says Thompson, who served as the executive director of the Marin Arts Council from 2009 to 2011, and has since been working primarily in development and fundraising for various arts-related institutions since, including 142 Throckmorton in Mill Valley and Theatre Bay Area, in San Francisco.

Thompson has finally reentered the scene with Left Edge Theatre, a brand new company in Santa Rosa offering its first season of shows within a few hundred feet of where the original Actors Theater once stood. Beginning with this weekend’s opening of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, Left Edge Theatre has officially landed at Wells Fargo Center, where two resident theater companies, Roustabout Theater and North Bay Stage Company, also operate.

“We have a strong season of four great shows to kick this off,” Thompson says. “Once we make it through this first year, we will see what happens next, but my goal is to establish Left Edge as a professional theater company. The best thing for building an audience for theater is having good theater available. So that, more than anything, is our goal.”

NOW PLAYING: Good People runs on Fridays and Saturdays (with one Sunday matinee) from Sept. 4-19 at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa; $30-$40; leftedgetheatre.com; 707/546-3600.

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