Bath theater company relaunches mission of bringing new stories to the stage

Posted March 26, 2012, at 5:06 p.m.
Last modified March 26, 2012, at 5:33 p.m.

BATH, Maine — Theater is hard work.

Actors and directors dedicate untold hours of rehearsals to the goal of producing a show that between the rise and fall of the curtain gives the audience an experience worth their time and money. The Lanyard Theatre Company, which is in the process of a relaunch after a more than two-year hiatus, is built around the notion that despite the difficult economics of live theater — especially when it involves never-seen-before plays written by never-known-before playwrights — contributors should be paid.

“We very much value artists’ time, skills and efforts,” said Elizabeth Lardie, one of Lanyard’s new co-directors. “The company has always operated on a modest budget, but it also has always paid its casts and creative teams.”

The Lanyard Theatre Company, which focuses on staging world premieres of new plays, was founded in 2005 by Kevin O’Leary, a Morse High School English and drama teacher, and John Upham, a set-designing mainstay in a range of Bath-area stage productions. But the constant demands of maintaining a theater company on top of family life and the demands of a full-time job were too much, said O’Leary, who has passed the company and its values on to longtime friends Lardie and Joseph Barbarino.

“As much as I was loving it, I couldn’t wear every hat,” said O’Leary, who has stepped out of the role of director and into that of a writer.

Next month, Lanyard will present stage readings in Bath and Portland of a new play by O’Leary called “Lascaux,” which is based loosely on a network of caves and millennia-old paintings within that were discovered in France in the 1940s by teenagers playing with their dog. The final details of the April 20 and 21 productions in Bath and Portland will be announced in the coming weeks.

“When you sit down to write, generally you know how the story is going to play out,” O’Leary said. “For the first time in my writing career my fingers hit the keyboard and another story started. What turned out was a suspense thriller.”

O’Leary said the theme of the play is that treasures can exist literally under our feet for generations and that when they are finally discovered, humankind to some degree ruins their beauty.

With weeks left until the company’s relaunch, Lanyard already is enjoying a measure of financial success. Lardie and Barbarino used an online tool called Kickstarter to raise $1,800 for the production of “Lascaux.” Lardie, a 2001 Morse High School graduate who studied theater and has spent the past decade eking out a living through acting, said the fundraising goal was set low to ensure success — Kickstarter campaigns that don’t meet their goal by the deadline don’t receive the funding — and that the focus has become raising additional pledges that will be invested back into future productions.

“Lanyard sold out every performance it ever had, but it was still hard to make ends meet,” Lardie said. “For the most part, this is a labor of love.”

Lardie said any extra money made in the Kickstarter campaign will enhance activities associated with Lanyard’s theater talent pipeline, which in the past has included an intense summer writing workshop in Bath for student and professional playwrights called the Trigorin Project. In Trigorin, students and community members pair up with actors and writers from New York City’s theater corps — including Barbarino — to work on wordsmithing. Lardie and Barbarino said they hope to resurrect the Trigorin project in the next year or so.

“Like every worthwhile endeavor, in theater I believe there needs to be a constant influx of new ideas and stories,” he said. “Lanyard for me is a place to experiment, a place to try things out and maybe fail. Lanyard, as well as Trigorin, provides an environment for artists to faithfully work out the kinks in the process of telling a story.”

Long term, Lardie and Barbarino hope to build Lanyard to the point that they can solicit new plays from Maine and beyond and produce the best ones. They also intend to stage productions in Portland and Bath, whereas in the past Lanyard has operated mostly in Bath.

Barbarino said in his more than a decade of involvement in O’Leary’s projects, he has come to appreciate major differences between Maine audiences and those in New York City.

“What I’ve always found in Bath in contrast to New York City is an openness,” he said. “The hard part about any sort of major metropolitan area is there becomes a sort of arrogance of the people, the belief that what is done here is better than what is done in other corners of the world. I totally disagree.”

Lardie said that although, financially, staging a well-worn play by a titan such as Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller is less of a risk, some of the greatest works of theater have come from writers in small towns who had the odds stacked against them. Barbarino agreed.

“That’s what’s wonderful about Lanyard and Trigorin,” he said. “It sort of plants the seed about what’s possible. What I want to know is where’s the next Tennessee Williams.”

To learn more about Lanyard Theatre Company or the April 20 and 21 staged readings of “Lascaux,” visit Lanyard’s Facebook page. To contribute to Lanyard’s Kickstarter campaign, which concludes April 2, visit www.kickstarter.com and search for “Lanyard.”

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