News from the stage: ‘8 Tens’ reboots for fall, Cabrillo Stage seeks next leader & Jewel opens new season

Scott Kravitz (left) and Sarah Kauffman Michael in an “8 Tens @ 8” rehearsal at Actors' Theatre.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Actors’ Theatre rebounds from COVID and other turmoil with a different spin on its signature short-plays festival, the search is on for a new artistic director at Cabrillo Stage and Jewel Theatre Company ramps up for its 2022-23 slate. Wallace Baine rounds up the state of theater in Santa Cruz.

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The calendar says Labor Day, and as all longtime fans of Santa Cruz theater know, this is definitely not “8 Tens” season. But somehow, in this upside-down world, here it is: The celebrated annual 10-minute play festival, a local midwinter tradition for more than 25 years, is set for a post-pandemic reboot.

On Friday, Sept. 9, “8 Tens @ 8” is back with a four-weekend run at its longtime home, the cozy Actors’ Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz.

The last we heard from the festival, it was laid low by the Omicron variant of the COVID virus, canceling its season set for January 2022. That was followed a few weeks later by the abrupt departure of the festival’s entire leadership team, citing exhaustion and the difficulties of replacing one of the theater company’s key figures, Bonnie Ronzio, who died in 2020. The bell was tolling for the Actors’ Theatre company.

But new board members stepped up and brought new energy. And not only is “8 Tens” on schedule to occupy its accustomed spot in the calendar in early 2023, but the new board and the theater’s considerable volunteer workforce is all coming together to salvage the ’22 festival.

The reboot festival is a scaled-down version of the planned 2022 edition. But it is still true to its name. The program will feature eight 10-minute plays, one after another, each from a different playwright, with a different director and a different theme. In recent pre-pandemic years, the popularity of the festival had pushed it beyond the limits of its title, with two separate programs of eight-play evenings. The originally planned 2022 schedule was to feature even more 10-minute plays, a little 13th-doughnut gift to each program, technically turning the festival into “18 Tens @ 8.” This month’s festival snaps back to the single program of eight plays.

Longtime Santa Cruz actor and director Suzanne Schrag was one of those who stepped up to serve on a new board of directors. She said that the board decided it was important to stake a claim in the calendar year 2022, to remind people that Actors’ Theatre is still around. So it made sense to revive some of the plays that were to be presented back in January.

the poster for the 2022 "8 Tens @ 8" Actors' Theatre season
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We’ve decided that it’s OK that it’s a little seat-of-the-pants,” said Schrag. “We’re not using new posters, just a sticker over the old ones that says ‘Reboot’.

“So, we’ve been rounding up the props and, where did people put the costumes? We just felt like waiting until next January for the full festival was just too long to go without something happening.”

Masks and proof of vaccination will be required in the cozy Actors’ Theatre playhouse in the Santa Cruz Art Center.

As for the January event, Schrag said plans are proceeding to bring back the festival much as it was pre-pandemic, with the two separate programs. The festival will also happen slightly later in January, avoiding the problem of having tech week during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period.

The 2022 “8 Tens @ 8” is set for Sept. 9 through Oct. 2, and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are now on sale.

Kristin Brownstone (left) and Alyssa Woodbury rehearse for an “8 Tens @ 8” play.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

CABRILLO STAGE UPDATE: Last week, the theater community learned of the resignation of Cabrillo Stage’s longtime artistic director, Jon Nordgren, after 17 years leading the company. John Graulty, the dean of VAPA (Visual, Applied and Performing Arts), the arts division at Cabrillo College, said the search is already underway for the next artistic director of Cabrillo Stage, which recently closed its 2022 season with “Grease” and “Candide.”

“We are planning to move forward with a season for 2023,” said Graulty, “but with a new artistic director.”

Audiences were not as robust for this year’s season as Cabrillo Stage had expected. “They were lower than what we had hoped,” Graulty said.

In his Facebook announcement, Nordgren portrayed the 2022 season as a make-or-break year for him as artistic director after the struggles of the pandemic — the 2022 season was the first year that Cabrillo Stage had a season in the Crocker Theater since 2019. But Graulty said that, despite the disappointing season, Cabrillo Stage is still in good shape.

“I think some of the challenges that Jon outlined in his post were certainly real to him,” said Graulty. “And they have been real. That reality has been underscored by COVID challenges in the performing arts in recent years, but none of those are spelling doom for Cabrillo Stage in any way, shape or form.”

Graulty said the new artistic director will be offered an associate faculty position. The strength of Cabrillo Stage for many years has been its support staff, which includes set designer Skip Epperson, managing director Dustin Leonard, costumer Maria Crush and others. And all of those presumably are still in place for a new artistic director.

Cabrillo Stage usually makes decisions on its summer season sometime in December, so the clock is ticking for Graulty and his staff to find a good fit relatively soon. “We’re going into this search with a pretty open mind,” he said, “and there’s a lot of talented artistic directors out there. Regardless of age or particular artistic bent, we just hope we can land a really good one and we suspect we’ll be able to.”

JEWEL OPENS NEW SEASON: Next week, Jewel Theatre Company opens its 2022-23 season with George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man,” the first of five productions the company will present over the course of the next nine months.

“Arms” will be the feature attraction at the Colligan Theater at the Tannery Arts Center through Oct. 2. After that, the Jewel season breaks down as follows:

  • The popular musical “Forever Plaid,” which touches on life, death and the doo-wop music of the 1950s, runs from Nov. 16 to Dec. 11.
  • A world premiere of a drama known as “Little Heart” by Irene O’Garden, a bio play about the celebrated artist Sister Mary Corita Kent, a nun known for her vibrant and colorful designs which were converted into everything from murals to book covers. “Little Heart” will run Jan. 25 through Feb. 19, 2023.
  • “A Doll’s House, Part Two” is a satirical sequel to Ibsen’s monumental theater work. Jewel will take that one on March 29 through April 23.
  • Jewel will close the 2022-23 season with Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods,” a warm familial comedy about a young Italian American man and his grandparents. That show goes from May 24 to June 18.

Tickets and season memberships for the new season are now on sale.