Our Space and the importance of Small Theatre

Our Space and the importance of Small Theatre

When people ask me about our space it’s always interesting to see their reaction. We don’t have a conventional space. Cue Live is the product of Carole Davis who took a bar/pool hall and turned it into a performance/cabaret space.

Now, if you were in San Francisco, or even Berkeley, this wouldn’t be such a reach. Space is a premium in these places, and in fact space in general for performers is alway in demand and not easily found, especially affordable space. But in the suburbs ‘found space’ is a foreign term. People are looking for a conventional space.

Cue is what we refer to as a store front theatre. Our ceiling is low, we have a light grid of a sort, we do have a great sound system (Carole using it as a recording studio off and on), a dressing room “area”, and no backstage to speak of. When the audience goes to the bathroom they pass the cast, not so much in the summer but always in the winter.

When I first came to Cue I thought, ‘okay, we can start here and move on to a “real” theatre’, whatever that means. If I hadn’t just come from my studies in New Zealand I don’t think I would have taken the space. I had, until that time, never heard of the term ‘Traverse’; a form of staging where the audience is on either side of the work. If you’ve been to the lovely Aurora in Berkeley it’s very much like that. I was familiar with the terms semi-round, in the round, thrust, and all the rest. At school we used classrooms and basements, pretty much anywhere we could. The class after me used a laundromat for an installation piece.

For Butterfield 8’s first production we started with a conventional work, Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward, moving into Romeo and Julian, and then Midsummer Night’s Dream. By the time I hit Midsummer I was in a love /hate relationship with the space. Looking back, I realize I would not have made the work I have made if I had started the company in a conventional space.

Why I love working in this space

The audience is so close that the actor can touch them with little to no effort. Not that they make a habit of this, but what it does, especially for classical work, is put the audience in the middle of the work. They can’t check out and let it roll over them. They are, in fact, one of the players. They are in the room with Jane and Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice, they are at the ball for Lady Windemere. When I watch them watching the work they are pulled in and engaged. The actors also must keep in the work; no phoning it in, no checking out. We can see all of you working and when you wander, we notice.

It is an intimate space in every sense of the word. It has made me a stronger artist by pushing me to build work in a different way.
This is the beauty of small theatre. We usually don’t have large budgets, although some do. Our spaces have forced us to look at the work and how we build the work in a new way. We are where invention happens. It is from the small experimental theatre that the big theatres get their new ideas. Sometimes they are able to realize an idea sparked by a smaller venue to its full potential. Sometimes it’s transferring the work into a larger medium for more people to see. We feed each other and both would diminish without the input of the other. The challenge for the smaller theatre is bringing people into the space to start with, helping the audience see that theatre can happen anywhere, something that isn’t always expressed in the suburbs. The price of the ticket is usually much lower as well. This is also something that smaller companies see as part of their mission statement. Theatre should be affordable to everyone. The larger the venue the larger the ticket price. It’s just the way of it. You have rent, insurance, props, costumes, royalties if they apply, actors and designers to pay. It all ads up. But in the end, why are we doing this? I don’t want to build work that only a few can afford to see, I want to build work that is accessible to all. Thats why we have such a low ticket price. We want to promote live theatre that people are able to see.


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