By Bill Hirschman
Slow Burn Theatre Company, the acclaimed troupe specializing in musicals that many companies shy from, is moving its main operation from Boca Raton to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts beginning next season.
The move brings a significant theater producer to a county that has suffered the loss of major companies in recent years, even as smaller troupes have cropped up.
The professional theater, which has been growing slowly but steadily over the past five years, will move from West Boca Community High School’s auditorium to the 590-seat Amaturo Theatre in Fort Lauderdale. Last season, it extended the run of two of its four shows to play at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, next to normal and Chess.
But beginning with the Broadway musical Big Fish in October 2015, Slow Burn will perform its entire season at the Amaturo, co-founder Patrick Fitzwater announced this weekend. The company began a partnership this fall with the Broward Center, producing lighter musicals in the Abdo New River Room such as the current The Marvelous Wonderettes.
For this current season, Slow Burn will be the only theater company operating in all three South Florida counties and perhaps the only one in the region’s history.
Additionally, in June, Slow Burn opened the Space, a small warehouse at 4782 N. 11th Avenue in Oakland Park that now serves as a rehearsal hall, scenery and costume shop, with plans to rent it out to other companies.
The theater scene in Broward has been troubled in recent years. Mosaic Theatre in Plantation, Rising Action in Oakland Park and The Promethean Theatre in Davie closed in 2011 and 2012. The Women’s Theatre Project in Fort Lauderdale lost its home in Fort Lauderdale in 2012 and moved to Boca Raton. Before that, among the companies closing were the Sol Theatre Project, Hollywood Playhouse, the Public Theatre and various incarnations of the 26th Street Theater in Wilton Manors.
But at the exact same time, new smaller theaters have set down roots such as Island City Stage, Kutumba Theatre Project, Andrews Living Arts and Thinking Cap Theatre, all based in Fort Lauderdale.
Slow Burn was organized in 2009 by two friends from St. Louis, director-choreographer Fitzwater and actor Matthew Korinko. Their goal was to create mostly contemporary or challenging musicals that few theaters would attempt — in some cases, no other theater. For instance, Slow Burn tends toward cult musicals like Side Show, shows that did poorly on Broadway but were reworked like Parade and even shows that admittedly are flawed but have an outstanding element like the music in Chess.
Some of that type of show have been mounted occasionally by other theaters, such as Actors’ Playhouse on Coral Gables, which takes chances every few years with a show like next to normal or Urinetown.
Slow Burn’s first production was the off-Broadway satire Bat Boy in February 2010 at the West Boca Community High School auditorium. It has been based there ever since, enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the school.
It drew heavily on a pool of young adult non-Equity actors who either could not get cast elsewhere or who were attracted to the Slow Burn’s bent for challenging off-beat material. Over the years, that turned into an ad hoc repertory troupe of actors and designers willing to work long hours for little pay.
Word of mouth and strong reviews built Slow Burn’s audience slowly but surely while the company carefully gauged its finances. Slow Burn didn’t even expand its runs to three weeks until last season for fiscal reasons, finally making the productions eligible for Carbonell Awards. Slow Burn received 10 nominations last spring for next to normal and won one for Fitzwater’s direction.
Slow Burn has always been grateful for the inexpensive space given to it by the school, but the house is actually too big and the sound system is not up to the demands of a large-scale musical. Besides, the school is located so far west on Glades Road that it is about a block away from the swamp.
Partnering with the Broward Center also provides some economies of scale since its staff can provide box office services and marketing – something similar to the deal Zoetic Stage has with the Arsht Center.
The partnership has been in discussions for much of the summer, but the deal was only inked in the last few days, Korinko said Saturday.
Asked if this was taking a risk that its audience would not follow, Korinko said that they had taken polls analyzing their audience and found that 70 percent of it was coming from Broward. Also Slow Burn is a favorite with younger audiences who are less reluctant of driving to another county at night unlike older audiences.