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Spontaneous Combustion

A theater group's demise

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I am staring blankly at a warehouse full of stage pieces, props, theater seats, lights, risers, scenery, pieces of wood stuck together that once might have been a portal; I am realizing how inanimate this theater stuff now seems, this stuff that when assembled in the right combinations brings to life, as it had so many times, a play.

These remnants, lying dormant, are what's left of Spontaneous Productions Inc., now dead, one of Boise's community theaters where actors, directors, technicians, ticket takers and audiences practiced and enjoyed creative freedom.

It started some 10 or so years ago as the invention of Boise's gay and lesbian community and was guided for many years by the late Scott Stewart. Its name came from the group's never-ending problem: the lack of a theatrical space it could call home. Over the years, the theater performed in several venues, once even in someone's driveway. Three years ago, the troupe had to rent expensive quarters on Latah so that it could once again present its annual fund-raiser production, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I was drawn to the group when it was housed in cramped quarters on Williams Street, abutting a beauty salon. I reviewed (for BW) Scott Stewart's last show, which happened to be Rocky Horror. Stewart brought the wild and crazy production off with precision, making the best possible use of a very small stage. I then reviewed (also for BW) Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! and wrote that it was first-class.

Pretty soon, I was on the theater's board and watched it continue to graduate from titillating plays like Cute Boys in Their Underpants Fight the Evil Trolls to productions like Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wild and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Just before Spontaneous lost its space on Williams, the company presented another McNally play, The Lisbon Traviata. (During this production, we found out that the venue was once a Boise firehouse and that the grandfather of David Rose, one of the two leads in the show, had autographed a brick on the building's wall 50 years before, along with several of his peers).

It became obvious that Spontaneous was appealing to a broader audience, presenting dramas in which everyone could find an emotional stake. It also became obvious that the emotions crossing the footlights, creating laughter and tears, were universal and could not (and should not) be defined by sexual orientation.

Months later, the theater relocated to the first incarnation of Visual Arts Collective in the Linen District and, with an expanded board of directors, made it clear that it wanted to offer directors and actors creative freedom with plays that knew no social or sexual boundaries, an expansion of the original Spontaneous mission.

Our first production at VAC was The Exonerated, the play about six people wrongly convicted of capital crimes who spent years on death row and finally were exonerated. It played to sellout audiences, and we thought Spontaneous was now going to become a permanent part of community theater in Boise. Actors, directors and backstage folks came to participate, and the atmosphere was exhilarating to anyone who cared about live theater.

We did shows like Closer, Nickel and Dimed on (Not) Getting By in America, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Iron Kisses and, in conjunction with the Idaho Legal History Society, an original play about the 1907 trial of Big Bill Haywood for the murder of former Gov. Frank Steunenberg, titled The Gate on 16th Avenue (presented at Boise Little Theater because of its large seating capacity).

Then it happened again; we lost our space. The future looked dark if not impossible.

Not to say that loss of space, or little money, were the only contributors to the theater's demise. While we were a theatrical troupe, we suffered the slings and arrows of being human beings, each with an agenda that didn't always move the theater forward.

I have thought about those different agendas, the love, joy, anger and selfishness that were part of the everyday mix, and have decided that this was nothing but a reflection of who we are as a people. Every community theater, every theater, has the same intrapersonal problems, the jealousies, the selflessness, the purposeful people who were nevertheless present because they (we) all had some reason to want to reach something larger than ourselves with the great entertainment live theater can be.

There was no service, no memorial. Spontaneous still beats in the hearts of those who participated, and, who know, someday, just like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, someone will say out loud: "Hey, let's put on a show." And the inevitable response: "Yeah! But where?"