Janus Theatre turns 20-years old this weekend. Our first production premiered at Vail Street Café in downtown Arlington Heights from Feb. 19-27, 1999.
The production featured Joseph Schuman, Jennifer Plotzke, Tom Selley and myself. It was directed by Terry Domschke and stage managed by Tara Morrison.
Janus Theatre takes first steps
It was a series of one-act plays – two by comic master David Ives and one obscure play by Sam Shepard.
These plays would be our opening production and they did not mesh well at all. If Ives was like pop music then Shepard was like hard punk. It didn’t make any sense.
Still, I went to a local bookstore, saw two anthologies from these playwrights, read a bit, and then picked the plays. It was random, poorly conceived, and in many ways not how you want to start a new company. But Terry didn’t flinch. He was gracious and didn’t try to change my mind. He just embraced the opportunity and knew we were actors in training, developing our abilities, so we worked on this odd production and when it was all done, sold out every performance.
Honestly, I was surprised the café owner didn’t kick us out after the opening night. The first two plays by Ives, “The Sure Thing” and “The Philadelphia” played wonderfully, but when we started “The 4-H Club” by Shepard, the mood in the room began to change. We went from funny people saying witty things to three guys terrorizing the audience, while chasing away invisible mice, and generally trashing the place. It was all very odd, exciting and new.
But what stays with me when I think about that time is how open-minded everyone was – especially Terry. It’s important to remember that he had been directing theater for decades. He had some strong credentials, and his name was associated with these shows, but he didn’t care. He enjoyed working with us on this material. That’s how he was in many ways. His ego was not at the forefront of his personality. He had a great deal of humility, but when it was time to work he could be quite rigorous.
For me, it was a new world of possibilities, and I was seduced by it all – even in a small café theater production. Looking at the article in the Pioneer Press, I cringe, because it reads like youthful exuberance covering up for a lack of experience.
I had an idea to start The Janus Theatre in November ‘98 based on a hunch and some ego that I could do better than what I was seeing around me. Keep in mind, I’d only been doing theater for maybe two years. I was late in the game. I knew nothing when I started. Still, the best thing I did was ask Terry, Joe and Tara to join me. They had been around. They had experience. They had grace. I had a big mouth. And a lot of energy and was eager to learn.
It took some years to mature, but looking back after 85 productions, it has been a journey into an undiscovered country, filled with wonderful people, telling tall tales in tiny places.
It is something I will always be grateful for – those three people saying yes to an idea that didn’t seem sustainable. And yet, here we are, a bit battered, like a band that has lost some members, but still keeps storming the stage making music. Rock on!