Published: Mar 12, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 12, 2013 05:35 PM
CHAPEL HILL - For 12 years now, Deep Dish Theater Company aka that theater in the mall has been quietly delivering drama and comedy in a rather unlikely place.
The small non-profit operates in a standard storefront space in University Mall, just between The Print Shop and the temporary lodgings of the Chapel Hill Public Library.
But is it that unlikely, really? After all, shopping malls and cinemas have had a long and storied affiliation. Deep Dish founder Paul Frellick said establishing a theater space in a mall was a deliberate choice that has paid off nicely since the theaters first show in 2001. During final rehearsals for the theaters current production, the rock musical Next to Normal, Frellick talked about local theater, chasing ideas, and the importance of thermostats.
Q: When did you open Deep Dish?
A: In 2001. At that point we were at the other end of the mall. Belk was still the anchor and it was pretty quiet. The first show took off and so we did another one. After a year, we could announce a season and weve been doing that ever since.
Q: What made you want to start your own theater company? And why in a shopping mall?
A: Well, Id done a lot of freelance directing all over the country before we moved here. One job led to another often enough that I kept busy, but I never had a chance to build a relationship with an audience. Thats the thing I was really looking to do.
I also had an interest in demystifying the theatrical experience to make it less of a special event and more something that could impact your daily life; just be part of your week. It became a kind of parlor game, walking around and imagining doing a play in different spaces. Thats where the mall idea first surfaced.
Q: What are the practical challenges of doing theater in a mall?
A: We operate on a different schedule than most other places in the mall. Fortunately, everyones been very supportive. When we started out, it might be an issue of when they ran their vacuums. You know, its 9 p.m. and the workers were ready to clean up and get home. We were just getting started.
And of course the space is not designed as a theater. The audience area can get a lot warmer than say, the lobby. So just managing the thermostat can be an issue.
Q: What led you to your latest production, Next to Normal?
A: I read a review of the Broadway production and was interested. We said when we started the theater that we wanted to chase ideas instead of genres. So that were not the theater that does the, you know, Polish animal plays or whatever. If the subject matter appealed to us, wed find a way to do it.
Q: Whats in the future for Deep Dish?
A: Well, the good and bad thing about our situation right now is that we do tend to sell out our performances. We do four shows per season, 17 performances of each production. We close one show and start the other the following day. But its just 71 seats, we have no room to even set up extra chairs or have standing room. So, its not a space that we can expand. Were bursting at the seams at this point.