No Rules company opens first show at Signature


Matthew R. Wilson as Colonel Melkett and Jerzy Gwiazdowski as Brindsley Miller in rehearsal for ‘Black Comedy’ at The Signature Theatre, opening February 9. (Stephen Gardner)
February 5, 2013

When we last checked in with Joshua Morgan and Brian Sutow, co-artistic directors of No Rules Theatre Company, they had just signed on to be a company in residence at Signature Theatre in Arlington County. Their former home, the H Street Playhouse, was closing. (It is scheduled to reopen this spring as the Anacostia Playhouse under H Street founder Adele Robey’s leadership.)

No Rules will produce three shows a season in the Signature’s ARK Theatre. The first, “Black Comedy,” which features Sutow, opens Wednesday.

“This is a big experiment with this first production,” said Sutow. “Seeing if the audience base we built in H Street will follow us here, whether there’s a new audience base for us here, all of those things are still unknowns. But this is undoubtedly a huge step forward for us. The challenges that have come from it are all good ones.” For instance: “A degree in acting did not prepare me for the administrative side.”

At Signature, No Rules is enjoying “mentorship on all levels,” said Morgan, including marketing, development and production. “What we’re learning is so tremendous.”

The big-league association with Signature comes with plenty of perks — office space, professional credibility — and some major adjustments, from having to work within normal business hours to “look[ing] at the company in a different light,” said Morgan. Since founding the company in March 2010, “we’ve really tried to run it as a business that could eventually sustain itself full time.”

“Everyone has a different idea of what No Rules means,” said Morgan, adding that he did miss “[being] in the theater at 2:30 in the morning as we stuff programs and paint the floor.” He said, “We are now operating on a different level.”

This does mean no more “getting naked, wrapping a sheet around your body, and painting the set because there’s no crew,” he said.

“Of course it’s bittersweet, because H Street is where we started,” said Sutow. “But I think [moving] helped to dispel that myth of people thinking we’re one thing that we’re not. No Rules is really about creative possibility. . . . Our programming is actually geared toward making theater that is accessible but challenging; that theater is for everyone. I think there were things about the H Street Playhouse that were a little limiting for us.”

For instance, Morgan once had to restage a show in the middle of the run because “a piece of the ceiling had fallen on the stage.” An upshot of being at Signature is “the ceiling isn’t going to fall anymore.”

“It was time for No Rules to take that next level up,” said Morgan. “To say that we are interested in becoming D.C.’s next major player.” Ticket sales for “Black Comedy” are “way above where we normally are,” he said.

The two hope that if this arrangement with Signature is successful, it could serve as a model for other area theaters. “I think this is potentially a segue into a dialogue on a larger level about what might be possible in this continually growing arts community,” Morgan said.

Wednesday through March 2, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, www.
norulestheatre.org, 336-462-9182.

Shakespeare Theatre season

Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn doesn’t plan a theme for the 2013-14 season but said all the plays “seem to be masterpieces of their genre.” Casts can’t be revealed yet, but Kahn hinted that audiences can expect “a lot of people we know and a lot of new people,” plus a mix of local talent and actors from New York and California.

Free for all: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

By William Shakespeare, directed by Jenny Lord (originally directed by Ethan McSweeny)

Aug. 20 to Sept. 1.

‘Measure for Measure’

By William Shakespeare, directed by Jonathan Munby

Sept. 12 to Oct. 27

Munby was last seen at Shakespeare for his debut, directing “The Dog in the Manger” in 2009. “I’ve been trying to get Jonathan back here for three years,” said Kahn, but scheduling conflicts got in the way. Knowing Munby wanted to do “Measure,” Kahn held off on including the play last season until Munby was available to lead Shakespeare’s production.

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

By Oscar Wilde, directed by Keith Baxter

Nov. 21 to Dec. 29

You may have thought Shakespeare had already covered all its Wilde bases, but in typical Kahn fashion — “I like all the runts of the litter, so I wanted to do the ones that no one’s ever seen” — the company hasn’t gotten around to ­Wilde’s most famous work until now. “We might as well finish our Wilde plays in a sort of crazy way,” said Kahn.

‘Henry IV,’ Parts 1 and 2

By William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Kahn and Alan Paul

March 25 to June 8, 2014

In preparing to co-direct “Henry IV,” Kahn said: “I had to get to know both plays so completely in order to have any courage to make any kind of adaptation of the two plays. I fell in love with Part 2. It’s not done as much. . . . The first part is like spring, and the second part is like autumn to me, where older people come up and enter the story.” Another motivation for including these productions, which will be staged in revolving repertory, he said: “I wanted to do it before I died, to be honest with you.”

‘Private Lives’

By Noel Coward, directed by Maria Aitken

May 29 to July 13, 2014

If “Earnest” is, according to Kahn, “the greatest comedy in the English language,” then “Private Lives” is “the best sort of ‘game of the sexes’ comedy.”

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