Starting a nonprofit theater company from scratch is nothing new to Richard Baird. The actor / director founded San Diego's Poor Players Theatre back in 2005, producing and performing what he likes to call "garage-band Shakespeare."
Now, "it's time for it to grow up," said Baird, who, nearly a decade later, is at it again, this time with his New Fortune Theatre Company. The company, which, at the outset, will stage its shows at Ion Theatre's BLKBOX space in Hillcrest, premieres Saturday, Oct. 25, with a production of The Bard's Henry V . Baird will star and co-direct with Matt Henerson from Los Angeles. (It begins with previews Oct. 23 and 24 and runs through Nov. 9.)
Baird's New Fortune team includes fellow actors Matt Thompson, who will serve as associate artistic director, and Amanda Schaar, the company's managing director. In addition to producing Shakespeare, New Fortune plans to offer new translations of plays by the notable likes of Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov.
"We seek to make the classics original and to make original classics," Baird explained in his deep baritone that's familiar to San Diego theater-goers who've seen him perform everywhere from North Coast Rep to The Old Globe. He's also performed at Chicago Shakespeare and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and let's not forget the Poor Players, for whom coffeehouses were not uncommon production venues.
You might recall film adaptations of Henry V —Laurence Olivier's in 1944 or Kenneth Branagh's in 1989—but the play itself is rarely produced these days. Still, Baird believes "it's a play that's always going to be relevant, because there's always war. Part of the reason Olivier made it was for [Winston] Churchill as an answer to the Germans. Branagh's film was really an answer to the Falklands. At the risk of being reductive, I'm certainly thinking quite a bit about Iraq and Afghanistan."
The title role is a complex one.
"Henry V is heroic when he needs to be, a bully when he needs to be, pragmatic when he needs to be," Baird said, pointing out that he comes from a military family and that he's the only one who's never served. This, he jests, is as close as he is going to get.
New Fortune's production will feature a cast of 14, including Thompson and Schaar, on Ion's little stage, but Baird relishes the logistical challenge.
"Because of the small space, 'the chorus' is certainly telling us we can't do that in here."
But do it they shall, along with a more-manageable New Works Reading Series that takes place during the run of Henry V . This series will offer Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (adapted for the stage by Baird) on Monday, Oct. 27, and Matt Thompson's The Cellar Door on Tuesday, Oct. 28.
Baird's heart is with Shakespeare, however.
"We're so focused on clarity that we've lost a little of the poetry," he said of today's theater. "Grandiosity has its place."
Step in the ring: The Old Globe's intimate space in the round, the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, should transform itself nicely into a boxing ring when Rachel Chavkin directs The Royale, Marco Ramirez's play about prizefighter Jay "The Sport" Jackson. Runs Oct. 4 through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. theoldglobe.org
Old tale, new telling: Yes, the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been told many times and in many ways (let's not forget Victor Hugo's original novel), but perhaps never like La Jolla Playhouse will tell it in a musical written by the venerable Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Runs Oct. 26 through Dec. 7 at La Jolla Playhouse. $15 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
Corporate corruption: Always adventurous Moxie Theatre's second production of its 10th-anniversary season will be Enron, British playwright Lucy Prebble's take on the 2001 financial scandal. It was originally planned as the closing show of the theater's eighth season. Runs Nov. 13 through Dec. 7 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. $20-$40. moxietheatre.com
Race relations: San Diego Rep often stages works that examine issues of race, and Honky by Greg Kalleres is no exception. The narrative is ignited by the shooting of an African-American teenager for a pair of basketball shoes. Runs Nov. 8 through Dec. 7 at San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Space, downtown. $31-$75. sdrep.org
A writer's demons: The title character in Tru is the late author Truman Capote. The one-man show written by Jay Presson Allen debuted on Broadway (starring Robert Morse of Mad Men fame) in 1989 and ran for almost 300 performances. Runs Nov. 20 through Dec. 21 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $15-$50. diversionary.org