“We take risks and plan on taking more.” That’s a welcome phrase to hear from any theater company, and it comes through loud and clear in the voice of Deborah Cascio Plezia, artistic director of South Shore Theater Experience, a big-dream, tiny-budget playhouse that makes its home in a former elementary school in Lindenhurst. Founded in 2009 with the intent of doing children’s classes and productions, the company—which is co-run by Plezia’s husband, executive producer Ted Plezia—has made grown-up plays a crucial part of its mandate.
And not just Neil Simon, Steel Magnolias and Prelude to a Kiss but premieres, debuts and even works by such demanding scribes as Harold Pinter and Sam Shepard. “One member of our board wanted to do A Lie of the Mind,” recalled Plezia in our phone chat, “and it was very successful. We try to bring new things to Long Island and the audience, but we’re also an actor’s theater. We want to produce things actors want to do but don’t get the chance to.”
The Long Island premiere of Love, Loss and What I Wore in 2012 fit that criteria, as does their current show (through May 2), String Fever, Jacquelyn Reingold’s rom-com that pairs a 40-something musician with a no-strings physicist. Even more intriguing is a premiere happening later in the month, Ready or Not, penned by company playwright in residence Christopher Hackert.
“We did Christopher’s ’Til My Dying Day,” explained Plezia. “He’s on our board and runs our improv classes. This one’s about the zombie apocalypse— very much a show for adults. And a hilarious comedy.”
Plezia, who has been involved with such Long Island companies as Theater Three, BroadHollow and Arena since the 1970s, takes pride in SSTE’s use of what was once Edward W. Bower Elementary School. “Our black box had been the school’s cafeteria and now it’s a nice space.” The company utilizes both that 50-seat room and a 280-seat auditorium for children’s shows and workshops. A church and daycare are also in the building.
“We have no budget!” admitted Plezia, who does costumes and directing. “We go hand-to-mouth. In fact, we finally got non-profit status last July, but they sent the paperwork to the wrong place, so we didn’t know until November!”
Nevertheless Plezia, who also serves as drama advisor for West Babylon Junior High, said the company is committed to keeping ticket prices down. “Most places cost $20 to $25, but I’ve been adamant about keeping our prices at $15. We have comedians come in from Manhattan, but even they have to keep ticket prices at $15. We have children who can’t afford to take our classes take them for nothing. We do a one-act festival every summer with the proceeds going to charity. We support local restaurants and we’re very much embedded in the community. We’re your neighborhood community theater.”
David Lefkowitz founded TotalTheater. com, co-publishes Performing Arts Insider and hosts the Dave’s Gone By radio program (davesgoneby.com). He hopes his latest play, The Miracle of Long Johns, will be coming to a theater near you.
The husband and wife team behind the South Shore Theater Experience plan to challenge their actors and their audience with new and rarely mounted works.