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Take Five: Theatre Lab's here to help you put on a show

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 22, 2013: Actor Ryan Foizey’s career plan is two years and two cities behind schedule but his dreams are right on time.

St. Louis was only supposed to be a starting point. The 25-year-old Cedar Rapids native planned to first relocate near family in the Gateway City, then move to Chicago, then Minneapolis, then Seattle, then who-knows-where, at the clip of one city a year. But Foizey ran into something unexpected in St. Louis: opportunity and support. Now his Theatre Lab idea could end up supporting numerous other theater artists.

In his more than two years in St. Louis, Foizey’s played Mort Stiefel in Stray Dog’s “Spring Awakening” and numerous New Line Theater roles including Gabe in “Next to Normal" and Crybaby Walker in “Crybaby.” In his spare time, he’s been busy creating a different kind of theater company.

Theatre Lab, which debuts its first show “The Sunset Limited” on Aug. 9, is designed to support theater artists who want to produce a show without the typical headaches and expense, with non-musicals as a priority. Directed by Foizey, “Sunset” is about a professor of philosophy who’s an atheist and a born-again ex-convict who are thrown together after the professor tries to commit suicide.

Foizey talked with the Beacon about how the Theatre Lab concept came about and what it may mean to St. Louis theater artists.

St. Louis Beacon: Why did you start Theatre Lab?

Ryan Foizey: Well, there was a selfish aspect to it: I want to do theater for the rest of my life and what better way to do that than pave the road for this opportunity for myself?

It’s an outlet for actors to produce things that maybe they did in college or something they read and always wanted to do.

So how will it work? Will someone just come to you with a show idea?

Foizey: It’s not just like they say, “Hey Ryan, I would like to do this” and I say, “OK, sure.” There would be a process, an interview. We’d sit down and talk about direction.

Producing a show is a heavy load of work. And a lot actor/producers don’t always realize what they’re in for when they say, “I want to produce this show.” They don’t realize all the the administrative work they’re taking on. What we want to do is allow people to have that freedom to say, “I really want to do this show” and not adopt all those responsibilities.

What will Theatre Lab provide and at what cost?

Foizey: We would take care of fundraising, finding rehearsal and performance space, paying royalty fees and set construction. They wouldn’t have to worry about the marketing, finding their graphic designer to design a show poster and all of the press releases and advertising. So the only thing they’d have to worry about is auditions, rehearsals and performing their show.

There’s no fee whatsoever. We are in the process of acquiring our 501(c)(3) status for a nonprofit. Some of money from “The Sunset Limited” will be going toward our legal paperwork. Once we’ve got that status, we can start applying for grants.

There’s also Kickstarter. And there’s old-school fundraising, sending out letters to people and networking and making connections, which is what we’ve been doing thus far and it seems to be serving us pretty well. Once we become established and people start to recognize us as a company, they’ll start to wonder how they can contribute.

Who is helping you with this project?

Foizey: I have a lot of support from people I’m around, such as Scott Miller, the artistic director of New Line Theater, and Gary Bell and Justin Bean at Stray Dog Theatre. And my lovely girlfriend, who’s also doing costuming for “The Sunset Limited.”

I have mentors who say, “This is the direction you need to go,” and ask me, “Do you have your business plan, do you have a lawyer?” Sort of guiding me down the right path.

What’s your plan for Theatre Lab’s next project?

Foizey: A one-act play festival. Two different one-acts every night for one weekend. You would have 10 minutes to set up, 60 minutes to perform and 10 minutes to tear down.

Sunday night would be an awards ceremony for best ensemble, casting, direction, set, costumes, lights, all that stuff. Whoever gets the award for best production gets to move forward and produce a full production through Theater Lab. So it’s sort of like an audition process.

I’d like to see that happen around the beginning of next summer. We’re going to take our time. The biggest mistake we could make is to get overly ambitious and start throwing project after project out there. We need to take baby steps and make sure this is being done the right way because I want it to stick around for a while.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.