New indie theater company in Bakersfield: Theatre in the Black

Jarred Clowes was for several years the forward-thinking force behind the non-musical productions at Bakersfield’s Spotlight Theater (now doing business as Ovation Theater), bringing exciting plays such as The Pillowman, A Picasso, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Goat; or Who is Sylvia? to the stage in downtown Bakersfield.

theatre in the blackAfter a few years away from regularly directing, Clowes has undertaken the task of filling the need for challenging black-box theater in Kern County. This weekend he opens The Firebugs, a post-war dark comedy parable on the rise of fascism, through his new company Theatre in the Black.

Conceived as a found-space company, Theatre in the Black promises “small, usually unknown, sometimes original, often visceral, occasionally dystopian, always compelling, and never mediocre works of theatre art.” Each ticket comes with a complimentary glass of wine to enjoy with the show.

Here’s what Clowes had to say about Theatre in the Black and The Firebugs:

What was the impetus for starting this company? What niche does it fill in the Bakersfield Theatre scene?

Up until my daughter was born, I’d spent my entire adult life in the theatre. Kat and I agreed and decided that one of us should stay home for Millie… and at the time I was the right choice. I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve gotten to spend with her for anything. But she’s in school now and I’ve been feeling the pull. I love the theatre… when I try to explain to people why, I often say that I don’t have reverence for much in this world except for theatre. I think it’s the foundation of all society, it teaches us empathy, without which we can have no civilization. Theatre is one person telling another person a story, through which they both learn something, and there can be no moving forward without understanding another’s perspective. This is all pretty lofty for why someone starts a theatre company, and even though it’s true I will also say that there is a high you get when you see and feel an audience be moved by something you have put into the world. I’ve been chasing that high as long as I can remember.

As for the niche it fills… I don’t know. I don’t know that there are “niches”. There are certainly “types” of theatre, but “niche” feels like a marketing consideration. I can tell you that we won’t be doing any musicals…probably; that we’ll never have more than five people in any cast…probably; that the shows we’ll pick will tend to be “dark” we are Theatre in the Black after all. While I think that consistency is important I tend to fall back on the old adage, everything moderation including moderation… Every theatre in Bakersfield has a flavor that shifts and changes as seasons, people, and intentions progress. Sometimes these flavors coincide and sometimes they don’t but they are never in conflict because I don’t believe that too much theatre is a thing.

What can audiences expect from Theatre in the Black?

When you strip away the complicated sets and lighting designs and props and every other convention that we’ve allowed modern audiences to take for granted (essentially that plays should be movies) you’re left bare with the work of the playwright, the director and the actors. Everything that they can create exists only in the mind of the audience. Audiences can expect us to take chances and to go strait for the jugular. They can expect no middle ground- either we succeed and they buy tickets to the next show, or we fail spectacularly and they don’t. No one is happy with mediocre not them, not us…

Why The Firebugs?

It’s got interesting and active characters, it’s “theatrical” in its form, and it is extremely topical. It takes aim at everyone and no one is spared.

What’s next?

I don’t know… my plan is to announce the next show during the run of The Firebugs. I don’t plan on having a traditional season, the “next” show is always announced during the run of the current one. What we choose is based off the quality of the script and the quality of the actors I would be able to cast in any given script at the time… That being said I can tell you that I’m planning at the moment for 3-4 full shows during a calendar year along with several one night or one weekend “stage readings” of shows that normally we wouldn’t have the opportunity to mount based on cast size or set requirements etc…


The Firebugs runs Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. through February 9th at the Idea Hive: 1910 19th Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301. Tickets are $25 each and include a glass of wine and the Q&A after the performance. Tickets are available HERE.

Their facebook page is HERE and their website is HERE.

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