There was once a tiny theater tucked into a corner of the Luther Burbank Center, at the northernmost edge of Santa Rosa. From the way people talk about it today, it’s hard to believe such a place was ever real.
Though the space is gone, replaced almost 10 years ago by offices and storage space at the center—since renamed the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts—the shows that were performed at Actors Theatre during its mighty reign have lingered in the memories of North Bay theater fans and artists. Some of those productions—Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Joan Ackermann’s Off the Map—have become the stuff of local-theater legend.
“It was an amazing time, and the best artists in the area did great work there,” says Argo Thompson, who joined the company after its foundation, and served as artistic director of Actors Theatre from 1997 to 2005. “It changed the scene completely, proving that when groundbreaking theater is being done by first-rate artists, people will make the effort to come see it.”
Actors Theatre soon earned such a stellar reputation that audiences from as far away as Berkeley and San Francisco would make the drive to Santa Rosa to see what was happening. Thompson was there when the company—formerly a breakaway from the long-established Santa Rosa Players—rejoined to create the 6th Street Playhouse, folding both companies into one under the 6th Street banner. After serving as executive director of 6th Street for three years, a reorganization of management effectively ended Thompson’s participation in the North Bay theater scene for the next decade.
Thompson has finally reentered the scene with Left Edge Theatre, a brand-new company in Santa Rosa, performing its first season of shows within a few hundred feet of where the original Actors Theater once stood. Beginning with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, Left Edge Theatre has officially landed at the Wells Fargo Center, where two resident theater companies, Roustabout Theater and North Bay Stage, also operate.
“We have a strong season of four great shows to kick this off,” says Thompson. “Once we make it through this first year, we will see what happens next, but my goal is to establish Left Edge as a professional theater company. The best thing for building an audience for theater is having good theater available. So that, more than anything, is our goal.”