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More Than A Black Box: Space 55

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A chalk incarnation of a Space 55 logo.
Downtown Phoenix Community Theatre Is Really A Family Of People With A Shared Love Of The Stage

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 10, 2011 — Space 55 is unlike any theatre in Arizona.

It is difficult to have any other impression of Space 55 when entering the front door, traversing the narrow hallway and ending in a small, immensely intimate black-box theatre.

But while the space announces the uniqueness of this theatre, it is the collection of actors, writers, directors and theatre enthusiasts that define the uniqueness of their space and art.

As a non-profit, Space 55 is an all-volunteer effort, relying heavily on the cooperation of the ensemble. The shared goal: putting on great productions. On any given day a new person might take part in writing, acting, directing, or organizing events.

The result, thanks to the Space 55 family, has become a theatre that not only pursues original material but one that pushes the conventional community theatre model with late night, and series productions.

Space 55 in pictures

"We are like a family," said Shawna Franks, artistic director. "That is the kind of theatre I wanted."

The genesis of Space 55 began when Franks moved to Phoenix from Chicago a little over six years ago. Before moving to Arizona, she had acted in both Chicago and Los Angeles.

"I knew of some theatre out here, but I had no connection to it," said Franks.

Yearning for some of more intimate theatre atmosphere she was used to, Franks began to invite actors to her home to read plays.

"So I started inviting some actors over and I would make dinner for everyone and we would read plays," she said. "We started to meet on a regular basis and it grew into a theatre company."

The company began with a performance of LBJFKKK, a play co-authored by Bob Fisher and Cardiff Giant, in 2006.

Visit the Space 55 webpage

"We wanted to focus on original and rarely seen works," said Franks.

Soon after, the group rented the location they are in now at 636 E. Pierce St. in Downtown Phoenix.

"We started here in January of 2007 and became the official residents during the summer of that year,” Michelle Kable, associate art director, said.

The tight-knit atmosphere at Space 55 reflects the troupes' vibe and intentions. When visitors walk in, bright red walls greet them. They walk past a cozy front room area complete with couches and down the narrow hallway towards the theatre. Once inside, they are met by a rather cramped rectangular room packed with seats. A small rectangular stage sits at the front of the room, accompanied by a nearly non-existent back stage.

"People are sometimes taken aback by the black box setting when they first walk in because there aren't many theatres like this out here," Franks said. "But by the end of the night everyone seems to really enjoy it."

Space 55 in pictures

That initial shock comes with the territory at Space 55. Unlike many other theatres in Phoenix, Space 55 likes to tread the unbeaten path when it comes to performances. They would rather showcase local, up-and-coming talent than a well-known commodity.

"People love Phantom [of the Opera]," Franks said. "But why would we do it?"

Visit the Space 55 webpage

Space 55's early performances included The Book Of Liz by David and Amy Sedaris and the introduction of its now popular 7 Minutes series. The series takes on a theme depending on the time of year and gives seven different acts 10 minutes to perform.

The 7 Minute series is still a very popular part of Space 55's repertoire. In fact, on October 22, 7 Minutes in Hell will hit the stage to commemorate Halloween.

"One thing I love about the 7 Minutes series is that someone can get up with a half-baked brilliant idea that works," Franks said.

Several performing groups, like Arcana Collective, found their footing and got their start through the series, Franks said.

Prior to the 7 Minutes in Hell performance, the group will kickoff off the theatre season with Porter's Munched, a play about a mother convicted of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and her now-grown daughter. The play will run from October 6 to 22.

This season will highlight local playwrights in addition to the world or Arizona premiere of under-the-radar plays, said Kable.

As per Space 55's style, the performance of Munched will involve every member of the ensemble.

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