June 22, 2012

“How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
Portia, Merchant of Venice


Co-founders (from left) Allison Darby Gorjian, Jennifer Bronstein and Betsy Roth at the Little Candle Productions launch party in April.

The Bard may not be such stuff as typical happy hour conversations are made, but when friends Jennifer Bronstein, Allison Darby Gorjian and Betsy Roth met before a Meadows School of the Arts alumni mixer in Santa Monica, California, the topic turned to their roots in classical theatre.

“We reminisced about the good old days at SMU and all the wonderful productions we were in,” recalls Bronstein. While students in Meadows’ acclaimed theatre program, she and Roth had concentrated on acting, with a focus on the works of Shakespeare and Chekov, while Gorjian studied writing and directing. All graduated in 2004 and pursued artistic opportunities that eventually led them to the Los Angeles area.

Before the end of that momentous March evening, the trio’s talk had turned from wishful thinking about performing together again to a decision to make it happen. On April 23 – Shakespeare’s birthday – the arts entrepreneurs formally launched Little Candle Productions to bring large-scale theatrical events to the stage for a single, affordable performance.

>See Little Candle’s Kickstarter video

Among the SMU alumni cast in The Winter’s Tale are (from left) Billy Gill ’03 as Autolycus, Emily Habeck ’11 as Perdita and Sky King ’08 as Florizel.

Their midsummer night’s dream came to life with the company’s inaugural presentation of The Winter’s Tale June 29 at the Alex Theatre, a historic 1,400-seat venue in Glendale, California.

The one-night-only concept is practical in financial terms and supports the fledgling company’s artistic goals. “By producing a show that closes on its opening night, we can truly highlight the ephemeral nature of live theatre, an experience captured only by those lucky enough to be in the room for that one performance,” explains Roth.

To cast the play ­– a genre-bending blend of psychological drama, romance and comedy – they plugged into the University’s strong West Coast alumni network. “We posted a notice on the Meadows Facebook page and sent out e-mails to as many SMU alumni as we could to help spread the word about our auditions,” explains Bronstein.

As a result, many of the actors are SMU alumni. In addition to Bronstein and Roth, the cast includes Meredith Alloway ’11, Billy Gill ’03, Adam Daniel Elliott ’05, Emily Habeck ’11, Sky King ’08, Ethan Rains ’04 and Blake Walker ’03. Gorjian directs the play, which runs approximately two hours and 20 minutes. Working behind the scenes are Catherine Hayden Dyer ’05, stage manager, and McLean Krieger ’11, special effects manager.

>Meet the cast

Little Candle’s successful inaugural performance has unfolded into an entire season of plays wrapped around the theme “Tales of Redemption.” The three coming attractions are: Our Country’s Good, an exploration of the humanizing force of theatre, October 2012; Abelard and Heloise, a powerful romance based on the true story of star-crossed lovers in 12th-century France, February 2013; and the world premiere of The Innocence of Father Brown, based on a collection of short stories by G.K. Chesteron and adapted for the stage by Patrick Rieger, in April 2013.

In a few short months, Bronstein, Gorjian and Roth have achieved what many theatre professionals spend a lifetime daydreaming about. In reflecting on their new roles as arts entrepreneurs, the SMU alumni trace their drive and willingness to take a gamble to their Meadows training.

“The SMU bond really is a wonderful thing,” says Bronstein. “It gave us the trust we needed – in our own abilities and in each other – to be brave enough to take this big risk.”

Gorjian says she “learned a lot about creatively starting a project from the ground up” through participation in New Visions, New Voices, Meadows’ annual playwriting festival, and similar opportunities. “Those projects – in addition to my own directing projects – taught me how to work collaboratively and without fear.”

Roth recalls being told as a first-year student that “you’ll never know your true potential unless you push the limits of what you can do. It’s impossible to have great success unless you’re willing to risk great failure, and we are taking a huge risk by starting this theatre company … but one that I think we’re ready for!”