In this month's focus on emerging theatre companies and up-and-coming individual artists, At Rise finds Peter's Alley Theatre Productions preparing for its upcoming run of Talley's Folley, February 5 through March 6. Writer Jamila Reddy spoke with Founder and Artistic Director Aly Ettman to track the evolution and future dreams of a company entering its fourth season.
Tell me your origin story. How did you all get started as a company?
I had wanted to start a company for a long time. I’m an actor, so my initial motivation was to create work for myself and for others. I started the company in 2012 with one other person. Initially we started off as a membership company; we recruited people, had auditions, and interviewed people who were interested in acting and other interests and skills outside of acting so that when we did our productions, we could staff the shows.
Gradually we’ve become an independent production company rather than a membership company, which is much more suitable to what we want to do. We’re keeping it small and about the work and very independent. We don’t have a typical board structure; I’m the only full-time staff member. I’ve had people work on individual productions and loyal designers and staff who are with me through many productions, but the great thing about it is that it’s an open door—for each production we gain a new team member. We’re always growing in that capacity.
Tell me about your mission statement.
We’re not committed to a particular social message or type of play or genre or playwright, but rather the quality of the productions and providing professional level productions at a moderate cost to people. I’ve never raised ticket prices since we started and they’re still well below most companies. This has created an audience that is really eclectic—not just theatre people. We get audiences from all over. Just as important to me is the quality of the experience of the artists involved in our productions. I don’t want to just produce a show, I want people to have an enriching experience and feel like they grew as artists.
How do you chose your season? What draws you to a particular piece? What makes a show a “Peter’s Alley” show?
That’s been an evolution. Being the Artistic Director, and with us being such a small company, my choices have always been based on my own aesthetic and taste and artistic sensibilities, but there are also a number of logical factors that go into any selection. We’ve chosen to work in an intimate black box space, which lends itself to the type of work I’m drawn to anyway, which is small-cast, highly character-based, usually contemporary work where the focus is on the characters and the story.
Tell me about Talley’s Folley. How is it a Peter's Alley show?
It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of writing. It’s a two character piece and the characters are so well-drawn and so interesting and [Lanford Wilson’s] style of writing is very subtle. Things kind of sneak up on you. It’s like this waltz—this very romantic, sweet story—but there are touches of some pretty dramatic elements, and it’s never maudlin or overdramatic. The way the piece moves is so beautiful. It’s done in real time. It’s the first show we’re doing without an intermission. It’s one long scene, and we’re doing it in a very minimalistic, artistic way. Audiences will really be asked to use suspension of disbelief and feel like they’re going into this other little world for 100 minutes. It’s a perfect little journey—especially in the middle of winter. It’s a perfect Peter’s Alley show in that it’s character-driven, intimate, subtle, theatrical, and relies on suspension of disbelief rooted in realism that people can really relate to. I’m excited about it. It’s just a beautiful piece.
What’s next? Where do you see Peter’s Alley in five years?
I’ve been fortunate enough to attract really high quality artists on stage, off stage, and backstage, so if I can keep doing that, I’d love to expand my full-time staff to enable us to do more productions. I want our reputation to always be about the quality of productions.
Catch Talley's Folley at Peter's Alley Theatre Productions starting February 5.