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Theater's New Row

Cadence Theatre Company steps out with “Fool for Love.”

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Forget all of the whining about dwindling theater audiences and the horrific economy. Anna Senechal Johnson says Richmond needs a new theater company. “Richmond has many great companies that I admire,” she says … but “I have a distinct way of sharing stories and I want to have my own venue in which to share them.”

A Richmond native who has spent the last 12 years in Hailey, Idaho, Johnson is co-founder of Cadence Theatre Company, which, according to its mission statement, promises to present “classical and contemporary plays and musicals which engage the heart, challenge the mind and celebrate the human experience.”

Johnson is clear that she must start slowly, and she's using her contacts to create the company's community. She's getting help from her brother, Jesse Senechal, her husband, Kevin Johnson, and a couple of friends, Bridget Camden and Lara Koplin. The plan is to keep costs low initially by avoiding the overhead of operating a physical space. The Firehouse Theatre is offering its space to produce the first play of her nomadic first season, Sam Shepard's “Fool for Love.”

“The more quality theater we have here the richer a theater community we'll have,” Firehouse Artistic Director Carol Piersol says. “Then the more attractive Richmond will be to artists to make their home here.”

Free space saves some bucks so Johnson doesn't have to scrimp on talent. Gordon Bass, Robin Bloodworth, Billy-Christopher Maupin and Maggie Roop, all well known to Richmond stages, make up the “Fool for Love” cast.

For Bass (who plays the Old Man), this is an especially meaningful experience because he has a unique perspective of the work. “I've come full circle with this play having played Martin as a younger man,” he says. “I've never had the opportunity to do that [as an actor] before.”

Still, a new theater company is an uncertain venture in a tough environment. Just take two recent additions to the theater landscape. Henley Street's founder, Alex Prevetera, had no Richmond theater connections when he arrived here four years ago, but he put together a great business plan that's endured. Chase Kniffen, founder of the now-defunct Stage One, had all the creative connections and no previous business experience. He put out a fabulous artistic product but might have done well to take some tips from the business world.

Johnson boasts both Richmond theater connections and theater business acumen. She's a founding member of two thriving theatre companies, St. Thomas Playhouse in Idaho and, in Richmond, the Firehouse Theatre Project.

“By starting out small and building a base she should be able to bloom on the other side of this economically challenging time,” says Jacquie O'Conner, managing director of Henley Street Theatre Company.

“Not to have full fundraising needs could be the way to go,” Kniffen says, adding: “The reality is there are only so many people who go to the theater.”

“Fool for Love” runs on select dates from Jan. 14-24 at the Firehouse Theatre. Tickets are $25. For information go to cadencetheatre.org or call 233-4894.

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