Curtain Call: Diva’s First Act

ABOVE: Bob Balitski and Helen Lavelle rehearse for The First Act.

Curtain Call

Diva Productions to offer first of many acts in a new (olde) venue

To say she was busy when the call came would be putting it mildly. Diva Theater’s Paige Balitski was up to one elbow in First Night Scranton and had just closed a Christmas show for the company’s dinner theater in Duryea when her husband Bob told her Dr. Barry Minora had left a message.
The name didn’t register at first, but she called back and was curious to meet with the owner of the Olde Brick Theater in Scranton. The meeting went well, but the Balitskis didn’t really think anything much would come of the discussion. It’s been 10 years since Diva had to leave its home on Adams Avenue only to watch The Moonshine Theater open and then promptly close up tight as if downtown Scranton isn’t desperate for performance venues. The company wandered for years before finding a temporary place to play at the United Methodist Church in Chinchilla, where they’ve been the past three years. They probably looked at every empty building and warehouse in town, Balitski joked. They were beyond getting their hopes up.
But Dr. Minora and his daughter Bridget would agree to their request for upgrades (e.g. alarm system, phone line and high-speed Internet) and Paige found herself putting out a call for directors before the holiday smoke had cleared. “The First Act” features eight short plays by four regional playwrights under the direction of four directors. It opens Friday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. with a second showing on Saturday.
This weekend’s production is a soft opening of sorts, Balitski said. Diva wants people to know they’re at the Brick but the paint is barely dry, she laughed.
“Everything happened so fast,” she said. “It’s not a burden, believe me. But it’s such a shock … I got the board together and I said, ‘Look — we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going from two shows a year to two buildings, two separate seasons.’”
Diva will continue to present dinner theater at Memorable Occasions in Duryea. Productions this year will likely include It’s All About Love, a musical cabaret, in February, Queen of Bingo in May and A Christmas Carol in December. Productions at the Olde Brick Theatre will be offered in lieu of programming they might have otherwise offered in Chinchilla.
“The church was never meant to be a permanent home. I had said at one of the NEPTA (Northeastern Pennsylvania Theatrical Alliance) meetings — ‘This could be the last year for Diva. We have no place to perform.’ And they stepped up to the plate to help,” Balitski said.
The church is happy for Diva, she said, not to suggest they are happy to see the players go.
“They are wonderful people and they couldn’t have been kinder to us, but you are restricted at a church. I couldn’t do the kind of edgy stuff I used to do at The Diva. And I can’t do edgy stuff at the dinner theater. They want comedies and musicals and musical revues and that’s great because I like doing that stuff but I miss the dramas. So now we’ve got the best of both worlds.”

Tim Hutchins, Susan Shapiro and David Strumsky rehearse for The First Act.

Tim Hutchins, Susan Shapiro and David Strumsky rehearse for The First Act.

She’s hoping to schedule an Irish Night program a weekend before Scranton’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in celebration of Irish music and poetry before the month’s more raucous festivities begin. Also on the drawing board are productions of Robert Harling’s Southern comedy Steel Magnolias in March, David Auburn’s Proof in June, and Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson’s ‘vintage’ comedy about movie producer David O. Selznick, in October.
That leaves a considerably amount of room to incorporate additional programming, Balitski noted, and she and Bob are hoping artists will approach them with innovative suggestions for using the space. The black box vibe of The Olde Brick Theatre, she said, “screams for” challenging and experimental on the stage while artists collaborate on brand new projects in the theater’s back rooms.
“What we would like the Brick to be is a place where artists come to create or bring something that they have created and put it on the stage,” she clarified. “If it’s an original work and they just want to hear actors say the words, let’s do it. If they want a place to sit and fine tune a script, let’s do it. If somebody has a project, bring it in. We can’t fill all the dates all the time. We really want it to be an artists’ home. That’s the goal.”

Program for The First Act

“Reliving in the Afternoon,” written and directed by William Zeranski.
“The Next One,” written and directed by William Zeranski.
“Chess and the Gottavater’s Daughter” by K.K. Gordon, directed by Caleb Williams.
“Real Friends Help You Move” by K.K. Gordon, directed by Caleb Williams.
“Trick of the Truth” by William Zeranski, directed by Tim Hutchins.
“Elevator Wars” by Lou Bisignani, directed by Alex DeVirgilis.
“Motorcycle Man” by Chaz Bennett, directed by Alex DeVirgilis.
Peforming in the plays are familiar faces Kimmie Leff, Katie Lane, Chris Eibach, Helen Lavelle, Bob Balistski, Emily Maier, Eric Lutz, Susan Shapiro, Carla Reck, Dave Strumsky, Sandra Opshinsky and Tim Hutchins.
WHAT: Diva Productions presents The First Act
WHERE: The Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., Scranton
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24-25 at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: $10. Seating is limited; call (570) 209-7766 for reservations.