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The 'Door' to frugality: Theater group pinches pennies but doesn't skimp on imagination

Cate Blouke

In these days of recession, of HGTV and do-it-yourself magazines, it's small wonder that independent theater companies are looking for new ways to make art. Turning to small-scale fundraising methods and inventive approaches to theater, Sustainable Theatre Project is on a mission to make theater do more with less and with their new play, "Seller Door: A Play of Consequences" which opens tonight and runs through June 19, STP is doing a lot with little more than a door, a paper cup and a $3,500 budget.

To put that in perspective, with space rental often running in the range of $5,000, many independent companies simply can't afford either the space or the equipment to put on a lucrative or even cost-effective show (let alone to pay their actors). So, companies are increasingly moving out of theaters and into less conventional spaces — and for artistic director Derek Kolluri, STP is all about adaptive re-ruse.

"Seller Door" is performed in an otherwise vacant storefront space on East 12th Street that STP has transformed into an eco-friendly theater. With a fraction of the show's total budget, lighting engineer Chrystal Boyd has built STP a lighting rig out of items found at any local hardware store. Importantly, the rig is not only portable (and therefore re-usable), but it's also vastly more energy-efficient.

Welcoming the opportunity to raise awareness, Kolluri points out that a single light fixture in a professional theater can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,100, and these fixtures require up to 575 watts of energy per instrument. Using clip lights that cost $7.85 and run on 60 watts, STP's lighting rig cost only $700 to make and runs on very little power.

Painters used to make their own paint, and STP argues it's possible to make their own theater, as long as it's sustainable. Fancy lighting is just one part of a theatrical experience, and when the costs are prohibitive (both economic and environmental), companies like STP decide to play to their strengths: resourcefulness, determination, and a willingness to think outside the box.

But sustainability isn't just a matter of reducing energy consumption and limiting waste; it's also an issue of getting the community involved. For STP, this has meant not only contacting like-minded businesses for sponsorship but also putting on a play that will get audiences talking.

When asked what "Seller Door" is about, playwright Larry Mitchell answers that it's about 74 minutes long. The promotional videos circulating YouTube and the social networking sites are deliberately mysterious. Depicting a door and a paper cup, the videos encourage viewers not to overthink it — it's just a paper cup.

"Seller Door" isn't the type of play where a plot synopsis is likely to pull you in. It's a comedy about a barker who gets people to go through a door and what happens after they go through. It's whimsical and energetic and inevitably thought-provoking.

Co-director and co-star, Kolluri says that the play is about everything, that it's about us — all of us. Like horoscopes, it's a play that could apply to anyone and invites us to read ourselves into it. It's a comedy that asks us to laugh at ourselves and at society's shortcomings, the ways in which we so frequently talk past each other in today's techno-saturated age. Whether people love it or hate it, Kolluri and co-director Jamie Urban feel confident that people will talk about it, and to them, that's the true sign of success.

'Seller Door'

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays through June 19

Where: East End Flats, 2931 E. 12th St.

Cost: $10-$20