With more than 300 theater companies in the Bay Area, surviving, let alone thriving in a tough economy, one that’s been particularly hard on arts organizations, is an accomplishment. Cutting Ball Theater has managed to do that, and marks its 10th anniversary with a “10.10.10” gala Sunday.
An experimental theater committed to nurturing new work and revisioning the classics, Cutting Ball was founded by Minnesota classmates and friends Rob Melrose and Paige Rogers at a time when many of the critics in San Francisco were bemoaning a dearth of cutting-edge productions.
“When we were just starting out,” Melrose remembers, “they said if we could just last until we were 3 — because most organizations never make it that far — we’d be fine. We had our heads so wrapped around 3 we never thought about getting to 10, but here we are.”
The first year, they staged Richard Foreman’s “My Head Was A Sledgehammer.” Subsequent seasons saw new works such as “Pickling” and “Betting on the Dust Commander” by Suzan-Lori Parks, “… and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi” by Oakland native Marcus Gardley, and several works by Kevin Oakes.
On the classics side, the Bard is a company favorite and Cutting Ball has produced memorable Shakespeares, including a leathery “The Taming of the Shrew” that Melrose recalls with pride: “It was a real stretch and us trying to be way bigger than we were.” He’s currently at work on a three-person chamber version of “The Tempest” that will preview at the gala and open in November.
Until recent years, the company was nomadic, renting space where they could, which created something of a lack of brand identity. Melrose and Rogers wanted Cutting Ball to make a deeper connection to its audiences by presenting a season in a fixed location and the company is now in residence at The EXIT on Taylor.
Looking ahead to their 20th anniversary, the duo sees different but complementary things. Melrose is excited to be part of the revitalization of the mid-Market Street and Tenderloin areas. “I see us having a larger venue and being one of many venues in a really thriving part of The City that’s no longer scary at night.”
Rogers, who takes pride in Cutting Ball’s strong production values, is looking further. “I want to have a voice internationally. I want us to perform at festivals in Russia or Poland. There’s a great theater festival in Cairo. I want us to be there.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.cuttingball.com