Grass-roots Threepenny Theatre stages 'Macbeth'

Shaleen Cholera and Meghan Lisi appear in Threepenny Theatre Company’s production of “Macbeth.”

Photo by Photo by Jon W. Sparks

Shaleen Cholera and Meghan Lisi appear in Threepenny Theatre Company’s production of “Macbeth.”

The Threepenny Theatre Company is opening its production of “Macbeth” this weekend, an event both against the odds and driven by creative determination.

About a year ago, Matt Crewse was watching “Slings and Arrows,” a witty Canadian TV series about the ups and downs of a theater company. “I got two seasons into it and really got this burning need to put on a play,” he says.

Many theater lovers get such creative urges, but the odds usually prevent much from happening. And the odds weren’t particularly good. Crewse, a University of Memphis graduate, has ample experience in acting, playwriting and music directing, but he wasn’t an established director and there wasn’t much money.

But Crewse has friends, he knows how to organize and he keeps contingency plans.

“I had initially wanted to do ‘Macbeth,’ ” he says, “but I didn’t think people would agree to take smaller roles for a director that wasn’t established and a company that didn’t really exist.”

So Crewse adapted, and he and his loose-knit cadre decided to put on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in June.

“It had a more equitable distribution of lines and we got a bunch of friends together and worked in the laboratory theater at the University of Memphis,” he says. “A few weeks into rehearsal, we kicked around the idea of a theater company and decided to see if it went well, [then] to move ahead with a season.”

The production relied on Facebook and word-of-mouth. The performance was tight, energetic and hilarious. And the response was beyond their hopes.

“The audience doubled each night: 30, then 60, then 126,” Crewse says, “and we added a performance.”

The success of “Midsummer” allowed Crewse to develop Threepenny into something with long-term goals.

“I wrote down things we wanted to do and not just physical things, but ideas and values we wanted at the core of the theater.” One thing they decided on is to let theatergoers set their own admission. And once the audience is in, the company wants, as Crewse says, to engage their hearts.

“I don’t believe theater can save lives or feed the homeless,” he says. “But it can move people’s hearts and make us more compassionate, and then we’re more likely to help. Compassion is the glue for society. Competition keeps us sharp, but compassion gives understanding and we get that through seeing the reflection of ourselves in others.”

“Macbeth,” directed by Crewse, is being staged at the Evergreen Theatre with Shaleen Cholera in the title role and Meghan Lisi as the formidable Lady Macbeth.

It’s a bigger space than “Midsummer,” with twice the cast and more of a budget. Crewse says scheduling and recruiting and technical issues have been challenging, but he has been getting help, improvising, learning and using those all-important contingency plans.

Because he is determined that Threepenny Theatre Company will engage your heart.

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“Macbeth”

Threepenny Theatre Company, Evergreen Theatre, 1705 Poplar. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Monday; 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 19

Admission: Set your own ticket price. No reservations, cash only.

Info: Facebook.com/IHeart3PT

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