Monday, May 9, 2016

Brelby Theatre Company announces their new theatre space!

Brian and Shelby Maticic
photo: Johnny Schnaible
by Gil Benbrook

The past seven months have been a crazy time for Brian and Shelby Maticic, co-founders and co-owners of the Brelby Theatre Company. Not only did they receive a $20,000 grant from Bank One, by winning a week long online voting competition this past November, but Shelby just received her Masters from ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

But the biggest news is that today they are officially announcing their move into a new building, one that is twice the size of their current space, just down the street from their current location in downtown Glendale.

Founded in 2009, Brelby prides itself on their focus on the development and production of new works in their year long season. With the combination of these new plays with well known comedies and dramas, family shows, and even an occasional musical, Brelby's season clearly has something for everyone. They even have weekly improv shows.  Brian and Shelby founded the company in order to provide opportunities to challenge themselves, and their group of company members, to grow, learn, develop and explore their talents. Brelby's move into this larger space will only increase the company's capacity to provide more opportunities for growth as well as afford the ability for an expanded offering of classes and shows and even the opportunity to improve the quality of their productions.

I had the privilege to ask Brian and Shelby some questions about their new space, their past, the future and even where the Brelby name came from.

Before we talk about your new space, let’s go back a few months when Brelby won $20,000 from the Bank One Elevator Pitch challenge.  How did you hear about the challenge, and what was it like to win?

Brian: Shelby first noticed it through the Glendale Chamber of Commerce Facebook page (we're proud members), and then we were reminded just before the deadline.

Shelby: Some of our core company members came together to put together our video entry pretty quickly, but it really showcased our aesthetic. We sort of all jumped into the roles we do best. Brian wrote the script, I directed the video, our actors rolled with the quick turnaround and memorized their lines in 15 minutes, and our amazing Media Liaison and Company Member Fernando Perez made it happen. He's the best video editor I know. If you ever need someone to make trailers for your pieces, he's your guy. Seriously.

Brian: Winning was incredibly exciting and game changing for us. Theatre can be very expensive and this grant for the first time allowed us to move forward without every single production being a make or break event. $20,000 is a big deal, especially to a small arts organization like ours.

Shelby: It gave us a level of stability that was so needed...and the experience of being surprised with a giant check was one of the most surreal moments in our lives. The theatre community here in Arizona really stepped up to make it possible. The finalists were put up to a public vote via Facebook. People I'd never even met were sharing our posts and advocating for us. It was amazing. It made me proud to be here, creating in this community.

the new home of the Brelby Theatre Company - located on North 58th Drive in Downtown Glendale
photo courtesy Brelby Theatre Company
I think it made all of us who support theatre in the Valley proud that a small, local theatre company could win a big grant like this. So you’re big announcement today is about your new space located just a few blocks away from your current location in Glendale. Why the decision to move? 

Brian: Simply put, we'd outgrown the current studio. We're constantly producing and taking on a lot of new and exciting projects, but were very limited by our small space and small backstage. Actors, costumes, props have been on top of each other.

Shelby: With how quickly we mount new pieces, we're often rehearsing on top of each other in the current venue. It's prevented us from expanding our educational offerings, because...well...we just didn't have anywhere to put them.

Brian: We knew that if we wanted to grow we needed a venue that was in line with our values and our mission.

Shelby: We're rare in a few ways...we produce year round, we take on a lot of new work...most of our season is comprised of premieres of some kind... world premieres, Arizona premieres, pieces by Arizona playwrights.

Where is the new space located?

Shelby: We're so excited to be moving to Catlin Court. It's just across the park from where we're currently located, so we'll be staying in the community that has helped us to grow over the last few years. The building is stunning...it's actually a part of the National Registry of Historic Buildings. It's located at 7154 North 58th Drive in downtown Glendale.

Brian: The merchants of Catlin Court have been incredibly supportive since we moved to Glendale, and they've been very welcoming of us coming to their area. We also love that we're not moving very far, because we have great relationships built with the merchants around our current space and we will always continue to work with and promote them.

The Brelby Staff (l to r) John Perovich, Education Director, Mia Passarella, Cultivation Specialist (Grantwriter),
Brian Maticic, Executive Director, Shelby Maticic, Artistic Director, 
Devon Mahon, Cultivation Specialist (Business Development)
photo by Fernando Perez
I know when we spoke last Fall you were thinking about moving to a larger space, also in the downtown Glendale area, but this isn’t the place you were telling me about. How difficult was it to find a space that had what you were looking for?

Brian: We're pretty flexible, so the biggest thing we needed was space and restrooms that were ADA compliment. So we saw several spaces that we knew we could adapt and make usable, but to be honest, it was very similar to when we bought our first house. After looking at several venues, when we walked into this one, we just knew.

How big is the new space compared to your current location and what will you be able to do with the expanded space? ?

Brian: Our new space has more than double the square footage. Two floors. Upstairs will hold our main performance venue. The downstairs will eventually hold an intimate studio space. We have room for offices, a classroom. I'm excited at the possibilities of providing more opportunities.This venue has a private courtyard...and significantly more parking.

Shelby: Yes, parking is a huge plus. It's going to be much more convenient for our loyal patrons. Personally, I'm giddy about having office space to work in. Now that I've finished my MFA at ASU, I'll be returning to Brelby full time, and having the space to work and dream up new plans is going to make a huge difference for myself and the rest of our staff. Plus, we'll have storage space and room to hold multiple rehearsals, just endless possibilities really.
Staff planning session in the new space
photo by Fernando Perez

How will this impact your programming?

Brian: It allows us to focus more on each individual production with less overlap in the performance space. We'll be able to continue to improve our production quality as well.

Shelby: It's going to be a big shift for us. The extra space is going to allow us to expand our season and provide more opportunities for playwrights to see their works developed and produced. You'll have to wait until our Season 9 reveal on June 4th to see exactly how much, but it's definitely going to set us apart as a new works incubator here in the valley.

Why the decision to stay in the downtown Glendale community? Did you look at other places outside of that area?

Brian: We discussed the possibility of moving outside of Glendale, but it felt like betraying ourselves. Downtown Glendale has become our home, and our patrons have repeatedly discussed the value they place on having opportunities to see quality theatre in the West Valley.

Shelby: Exactly. It's become home...and I can't imagine moving anywhere else at this point. I think that the West Valley community is growing and connecting, and we're excited to be a part of that.

What will this mean for the rest of your current season?

Brian: We still have some work to do before we open the venue, so some changes will come to our schedule. Once we receive the go ahead, we'll be transitioning to the new venue.

Shelby: We're still producing in the current studio until we close After Hours at Rosie's Pub. Some dates have shifted for the rest of the season from our initial announcement last year, but we think that the reason why is worth it.

Brian and Shelby Maticic with "Rumor"
photo: Daniel Kim Photography
So let’s talk about the early days of Brelby. First, I think you guys met in college, is that right?

Brian: Yes, working on Cinderella at NAU.

Shelby: I met my Prince Charming backstage of Cinderella. It's cheesy but...I don't care. I was his Assistant Stage Manager, and he was on the stage crew. I never made him sweep, because we were always talking about plays. Our first conversation was about Rumors, and how much we liked Neil Simon. We named our first dog Rumor because of that.

Obviously “Brelby” is the combination of both of your first names. Did people call you guys that, ala “Brangelina,” when you were in college? Or did you guys come up with the name yourself when you were thinking of names for your theatre company?

Brian: It started during a bowling match with some friends. We were on the same team, they merged our names.

Shelby: It stuck. Shout out to Mac and Trey for making that happen so long ago. When we were choosing a company name we really tried to think of something else, so we didn't feel too egocentric...but all of the people who were in the initial company encouraged us to roll with Brelby. It's quirky, it's different...nobody is going to steal it.

It's also very memorable! When, and why, did you guys decide to start your own company?

Brian: I had always wanted to start and own a company. Since high school that had become my aspiration. When we started dating it became very clear that we had the same ideals and goals when it came to theatre. It was something that happened pretty quickly, it was just a matter of where and when.

Shelby: We were both in a lot of leadership positions during our time at NAU. Brian was the president of Arizona Playmakers, dedicated to fostering playwrights and producing original scripts. We both led the NAUghty Bits improv team at one point. I founded ETC (Educational Theatre Company) which I believe is now defunct, but back when NAU had a Theatre Education program, we were the place for those students to come together and seek guidance. I was also the president of the Beta Nu chapter of Alpha Psi Omega for two years. All of these roles really shaped Brelby and the direction we took the company.

What has been the biggest change you guys made over the years from what your original plan for your own company was?

Brian: I think we had no concept of how much we'd be producing until we explored renting our own storefront. We knew we always wanted it to be artist-centric, but its become much more about fostering the family of artists we've assembled. Producing new works has grown to be a primary passion of the company as a whole.

Shelby: Definitely the focus on new works. I think when we founded we thought that we'd do an original play every year...one. That seems like a million years ago.

The Brelby company in their new gazebo
photo by Fernando Perez
Tell me about your decision to have a Brelby  company of actors and the pros and cons of having a group of individuals to draw upon for all aspects of your productions

Shelby: We feel drawn to ensemble work. Our focus is so heavily placed on creating well rounded theatremakers, that leaders tend to emerge through that process. We're incredibly lucky to have found core artists who are not only willing but excited to put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to create original art for our community. Our ensemble grows and changes as some folks move on to new opportunities, but there is something so great about having that artistic comfort and connection. We can push one another to take risks that would be far scarier and intimidating with a new group of artists. We're a family. Just like any other family, sometimes we have to work out our spats or take a little "me time" to rebalance...but that's just being human.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned with Brelby?

Brian: There are many. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Believe in yourself and what you're trying to accomplish despite negative feedback. Sleep is for the weak. There's little more important than fostering a positive environment.

Shelby: Learn to say no. Learn to say yes. Lead by example. Own when you aren't. It's okay to cry, no matter how high up you are. Artists like to know that they're being led by humans. Encourage kindness. Take chances. Take risks. Make friends with as many different kinds of people as you can. You never know what can happen.

What has been the craziest experience the two of you have had in owning your own theatre company?

Brian: Maybe the Godspell floods, or the FirstBank check delivery, or finding out that we would have a supporter that was going to help us get into a building.

Well of course I have to ask, just what were the Godspell floods?

Brian: Part of our initial scenic design in Godspell involved a water tank that our Jesus could walk across. Well, it got a crack in it and flooded the theatre opening night, while the audience was finding their seats. It's something that I laugh about now, and we learned a lot during that first musical. Then on closing night, one of our toilets flooded the lobby and we had to dismiss the audience through the stage door after the show. Shelby spent all of strike using our shop vac to get the water and sweeping it out the door.

Well that does sound like a very crazy experience. And what about you Shelby?

Shelby: Craziest? Hmm. Maybe winning the FirstBank pitch, or experiencing our first standing ovation in that studio. Personally, I think it would be something to do with when we produced She Kills Monsters a couple of years ago.

Not sure if you remember but that was my first Brelby show, and you know how impressed I was, not only with what you guys were able to do with it, but the fact that this great theatre company was just down the street from my house and right under my nose all of this time

Shelby: That's when we hooked you, right Gil? We really appreciate that you have a respect for the quirky and new works and the classics. We actually were the AZ premiere of She Kills Monsters, and it was so insane to see the community response. It was the first show we've ever extended a run for, and so many people came to see it multiple times. It drew in people from lots of different communities and fandoms, and some of them, like you, have become regulars for us. Geek theatre is a niche that not many groups explore, but it's one of our favorites. I was warned when I chose that show that it was a mistake, and seeing that trusting my gut as an Artistic Director could pay off gave me a newfound sense of bravery in shaping future seasons.

For more information on Brelby Theatre Company, visit www.brelby.com

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