Looking back on a decade of “pushing the envelope” with provocative production concepts and challenging plays, making do with cramped quarters, and building sets in a storage unit, Dezart Performs artistic director Michael Shaw says he feels most fulfilled in bringing world and West Coast premieres to the desert.
But Shaw is not resting on his laurels. His hopes are high as the Palm Springs–based theater company embarks on the start of its next decade.
“I want our own theater!” he exclaims, with a hearty laugh. “I want a 250-seat theater, with a shop and a backstage…” He says he loves his job. “I have the freedom to create and serve a community that is clamoring for the type of work that we do. I’m constantly looking for the latest new play. I try to bring rare pieces here. Pieces that have just closed off-Broadway.”
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The Legend of Georgia McBride fits that bill. A New York Times Critic’s Pick described the play as: “A stitch-in-your-side new comedy … full of sass and good spirits!” This kickoff for Dezart Performs’ 10th anniversary season runs Nov. 3 through 12 at Pearl McManus Theater at Palm Springs Woman’s Club.
Get ready for an Elvis impersonator who loses his job at a Florida bar, then finds his life changed by a drag queen hired to replace him. “It’s about finding one’s true self,” Shaw says. “Finding a passion for the way to express oneself. A way to survive. It fulfills you. It’s about discovery, journey, friendship.”
The production of Casa Valentina included cast members (from left) Jeffrey Norman, Tammy Hubler, and Cameron Shingler.
The musical, with lots of dance, is an official Greater Palm Springs Pride event, featuring Sean Timothy Brown of Palm Springs as the Elvis look-alike, plus a cast from Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Coachella Valley.
Also mark your calendar for Dezart’s big anniversary celebration planned Jan. 14 at Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge. “We expect about 150 alumni, plus celebrities, and the mayor,” Shaw says.
It’s all heady stuff for a theater company that began with a space that could fit about 20 chairs inside Dezart One Gallery. The move to the Women’s Club seven years ago when the gallery closed afforded them room for 100 seats.
“Our mission has been to provide playwrights with opportunities to produce unpublished new work,” Shaw says. His primary goal now is to stabilize revenue to accomplish the dream of a new theater. His husband and board president, Clark Dugger, aids him in that goal.
“[Clark] is a vital part of this organization,” Shaw says. “He’s really good at making sure we do everything we need to do from an executive viewpoint. We’re working with a fundraiser right now to take steps for a capital campaign.”
In the new year, expect to see Shaw acting in The Rabbit Hole, a Pulitzer Prize–winning drama about the loss of a small child. Then join Dezart Performs for a gala evening of live radio shows March 8 at Camelot Theatres.
Among the Dezart Performs winners at the 2017 Desert Theatre League awards were (from left) Theresa Jewett, Outstanding Lead Actress – Comedy, Clybourne Park; Jeffrey Norman, Outstanding Supporting Actor – Drama, Casa Valentina; Michael Shaw, Outstanding Director – Comedy – Professional, and Outstanding Production – Comedy, both for Clybourne Park, and Tammy Hubler, Outstanding Lead Actress – Drama – Professional, Casa Valentina.
With exciting possibilities on the horizon, some things will stay the same, such as the continued commitment to the Dezart Performs mentoring and scholarship program with Palm Springs High School. Shaw says. “We would love to keep the talent here.”
The Legend of Georgia McBride, Nov. 3–12, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Pearl McManus Theater at Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. Tickets are $28 to $40. For more information and tickets, visit dezartperforms.org or call 760-322-0179.