Firebugs

Schmitz (Bryan Maddern), background, is one of the titular "Firebugs" who has wormed his way into Gottlieb Beidermann's (Rikk Cheshire) home in the play opening Friday with Theatre in the Black. The new local troupe will perform this show at the Idea Hive.

Like any good parent, Jarred Clowes was happy to be actively involved in his daughter's early development. But now that she's in school, he's fostering another fledging into being: Theatre in the Black.

The new theater company is not tied to a location, although its first show  — "The Firebugs" — debuts Friday at The Idea Hive downtown. It was born out of Clowes' passion for the craft.

He wrote in an email, " ... 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."

Clowes is excited to get back into the theater scene, which he stepped back from when his daughter, Millie, was young. (His wife, Kat Clowes, is also a local theater veteran.)

With a thriving theater community, which includes Ovation Theatre, Stars Theatre Restaurant, The Empty Space and Bakersfield Community Theatre, Clowes feels that audiences only benefit from more options.

"Every theatre in Bakersfield has a flavor that shifts and changes as seasons, people, and intentions progress," he wrote. "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."

The new company's opening show is a dark, absurdist comedy by Swiss playwright Max Frisch.

In this parable on the rise of fascism, bourgeois couple Gottlieb and Babette Beidermann (played by Rikk Cheshire and Jenna Odlin) are convinced to take in the arsonists disguised as salesmen (Bryan Maddern and Patrick Plugge), who then proceed to stockpile gasoline in the home and set up primers and fuses. Ariel Clarke also stars as the Beidermanns maid, Anna.

Of selecting the show, Clowes said he was drawn to the interesting and active characters, its "theatrical" form and that it is extremely topical.

"It takes aim at everyone and no one is spared."

Stripped-down staging allows the audience to focus on the work of the playwright, the director and the actors, Clowes said.

"Audiences can expect us to take chances and to go straight for the jugular," he said. "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."

He said he plans to announce the next selection during the run of "Firebugs," with three to four shows planned per calendar year along with one-night or one-weekend stage readings of works that wouldn't be able to be produced for cast or set considerations. 

And don't count on any musicals; Clowes said he expects to focus on shows with smaller casts and heavier topics.

" ... The shows we'll pick will tend to be 'dark.' We are Theatre in the Black after all."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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