Spark drops in on San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC) on a typical Saturday night. There are three theater spaces, and each one is full: cabaret in Theater Three; a comedy about drug addiction called “Rescue and Recovery,” by Steve Murray, in the Walker Theatre; and “Mambo Italiano,” by Steve Galluccio, in the Decker Theatre.
NCTC founder Ed Decker, who is also the theater center’s executive and artistic director, explains how, for him, risk-taking is what it is all about. “I strive to push past my comfort level. Whenever I start to see us producing things that are easily done, I quickly move in the other direction.” He celebrates the uniqueness of the NCTC as a populist community theater that speaks to and for diverse audiences, especially for the gay community in San Francisco.
The productions under consideration for the NCTC’s 2005 Gay Pride Season illustrate a commitment to trying new and challenging material. Contenders include a piece about photographer Richard Mapplethorpe and “Slap and Tickle,” by new writer Davis Parr, about a gay bathhouse. Both pieces are controversial, as is the work of Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, who is currently in residence at the NCTC as part of its new works program. McNally will have his third première at the NCTC in the 2006 Gay Pride Season.
Now that dramatizing the gay experience has become more acceptable, Decker sees the NCTC responding and moving in a new direction. It is no longer a question of gay theater or black theater or women’s theater. Now that theater articulates these voices, Decker believes that theater needs to reach out to other communities. Things may change, but the mission of the NCTC remains constant: to effect personal and societal growth, enlightenment and change.
The NCTC is a recipient of multiple Drama-Logue, Bay Area Theatre Critics and Dean Goodman awards and has also received substantial support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The NCTC was the first theater in the United States to use theater to educate youth in grades K-12 on HIV awareness and prevention as part of its nationally acclaimed YouthAware Education Theatre. The NCTC also offers adult classes throughout the year.