By Seth Reines, October 2018 Issue.
The newest addition to the Valley’s theater landscape opens its doors Sept. 28 with Jekyll and Hyde The Musical, starring Matravius Avent in the title role.
Arizona Regional Theatre (ART) was founded by local actors Kayla Etheridge and Kimberly Sheperd, who met during rehearsals for a local production and immediately began daydreaming about owning and running a theater company.
“We strive to bring more opportunities to the talented people of Arizona. We strive to present professional productions with local talent. We plan to deliver a varied and exciting season of productions to Arizona audiences. And above all, we are excited to foster Relationships in the already-thriving arts community,” they shared via arizonaregionaltheatre.org.
Echo caught up with Sheperd and Etheridge ahead of ART’s premiere production and here’s what they had to say.
Echo: Why did you found ART?
Sheperd & Etheridge: We founded this company because we are both young women who have been involved with theater throughout our lives and we feel that we have a perspective that is often underrepresented. We are coming into this open to working with as many new people as we can each season, so that everyone is getting fresh opportunities.
Echo: What makes ART unique in the Phoenix theater scene?
Sheperd & Etheridge: Our commitment is to professionalize the community. We plan to be a fully equity house within the next five years and will have our own state-of-the-art facility within that same time frame, so that we can produce larger shows that employ as many local artists as we can. Also, we plan to arrange our seasons based on what our creative team is passionate about. Rather than hunting down a director for a certain show, we would rather ask our directors what they care about.
Echo: What plans do you have for tackling issues surrounding marginalized communities, like the LGBTQ community?
Sheperd & Etheridge: We are doing Next to Normal, which deals with the stigma of mental illness and we are not taking this lightly. There will be talkbacks with mental health organizations, [campaigns for] raising awareness and a special performance for the members of the Maricopa Integrated Healthcare system. Certainly, we will treat any future shows that deal with LGBTQ+ issues with the same respect and care.
A Phoenix Premiere
ART’s premiere production, Jekyll and Hyde stars local musical theater performer Matravius Avent in the title role.
The Phoenix-based vocalist/actor began studying music at age 12 and has performed genres spanning opera, musical theater, jazz, rock, and soul.
His past favorites shows include Ragtime, The Pajama Game, Passing Strange, Les Miserables and Memphis. In addition to singing in concert reviews all over Arizona and also in the local theater scene, Avent spent a full year performing Big Band Beat at Tokyo DisneySea.
Echo recently caught up with Avent to find out how he became involved with ART, and here’s what he had to say.
Echo: What makes ART so unique?
Avent: It’s rare to find women artistic directors. I think it is very special to have TWO founding this company and starting it off by directing and choreographing the inaugural production. They’ve started the company from the ground up and put together a great season. I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Echo: How did you get involved with them?
Avent: A couple [of] folks told me that a new theater company was starting up in town. A bit later I saw their audition posting for Jekyll & Hyde. I’m a huge fan of the score and always wanted to sing it on the stage. I think audiences not familiar with the show will be surprised at how much of the music they already know. I moved to Phoenix 10 years ago and it has only been produced twice, I believe. I’ve also never seen a person of color cast as Jekyll/Hyde. So, I figured, “why not now?” I was pretty excited when they offered me the role!