A bigger stage – New Venture Theatre starts a new season and looks to the future

The Baton Rouge-based production company New Venture Theatre has been going strong for five years, producing top-quality shows, introducing this city to new talents and showcasing the theatrical debuts of local celebrities from other realms of entertainment.

This year, New Venture will produce a bevy of shows that Artistic Director Greg Williams Jr. calls “our something-for-everyone season.”

The season will begin this month with the classic A Raisin in the Sun, which has a special meaning for Williams. First given to him by his English teacher, whom he told he wanted to be an actor, the play introduced him to black actors on stage, where he says before he had only ever seen or heard of black actors in films. This concept prompted him to spend all evening after school reading the play.

“Many people believe the play is very dark. New Venture Theatre sees this play in a totally different light—it is very bright,” Williams says. “It’s a story about a family pursuing their dreams and having a fantastic ride along the way; they take great pride in what they have.”

Williams says New Venture plans to focus on the abundance of comedy in the show and will also give color a big role in the production. He warns that audiences should not expect the late 1950s version or the 2008 remake on Broadway that featured Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

Other shows planned for the 2013 season include a comedy called The Funnies, which is about some of history’s biggest comedians, including the late Red Foxx. The show will star and is co-written by local comedian Howard Hall, who played Harpo last year in The Color Purple: The Musical, which is the only New Venture production to have sold out all eight of its performances.

After The Funnies, the company will present what it calls the African American experience, with the gospel musical SHOUT! and a color-blind casting of The Wiz in the summer. Williams says the latter is the first repeat show the company will present, having already produced it in 2010. The company will also produce Broke-ology, about a father trying to help his two sons in a rough neighborhood. Lastly, New Venture will close the season with the well-known musical Little Shop of Horrors.

Casting calls are made about two months before each show, and auditions are intense. Williams says they look for raw talent that can succeed with guidance. Performers will go through six to seven weeks of rehearsals until show time.

As New Venture has steadily developed as a production company, the team is launching a capital campaign this year to build its own home. The company currently produces shows in rented spaces like the Manship Theatre and Independence Park Theatre.

Williams says he and some of the other six volunteer employees use their own homes to store costumes, scenery and props. They all have day jobs and are currently not yet at a level where they or the performers can be paid—the volunteer employees have committed to forego salaries until the company really takes off. Right now, all proceeds from each production go directly toward putting on the next one.

“All of our shows are funded mostly from lots of grant writing, general begging and audience ticket sales,” Williams says. “Over the past five years we’ve been able to develop the most diverse audience in the city and have offered a performance platform for over 500 performers who might not have had the opportunity otherwise.”

Note: Some venues subject to change. Go to newventuretheatre.com for more.

Feb. 21-24: A Raisin in the Sun at BRCC Magnolia Pavilion

April 20: The Funnies at Independence Park Theatre

May 23-26: Shout! Gospel Revue at Independence Park Theatre

July 18-28: The Wizat Independence Park Theatre

Aug. 16-17: Broke-ology at Hartley/Vey Studio in the Shaw Center

Sept. 26-29: Little Shop of Horrors at BRCC Magnolia Pavilion