Scott Ewing was out in town on an errand when he ran into a patron of one of his Ewing Ventures theater productions.
“I’m never going to one of your shows again,” the patron said.
Intrigued, Ewing asked why, and the man teared up. And it is that reaction that Ewing and his wife, Lois, have always sought from their productions.
“Our greatest reward is the red eyes of people who come out of the theater,” said Scott Ewing. “We’re not in it for the money. Lois and I don’t even take a salary. We’re in it for those moments after the shows.”
The man was reacting to a performance of “Last Lists of My Mad Mother,” a production about Alzheimer’s that made him reflect on his own Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother and their relationship.
He was so affected, he said, that he did not get out of bed for two days. For the Ewings, the ability theater has to impact people in that way is what keeps them going back to the stage.
This weekend, they return to the Nevada County theater scene with a new name, a new venue and the same mission — to make audiences think about their lives and how to move forward.
Redubbed Quest Theaterworks and in its inaugural year as a nonprofit, the group will kick off the new season this weekend with two productions: “Sealed for Freshness,” which opens Friday, and “Alice in Wonderland,” which opens Saturday as part of the Theater for Young Audiences program.
Both shows will be hosted at the Oddfellows Lodge in Grass Valley, not a traditional venue for productions of this nature but the perfect home for Quest Theaterworks.
“By moving to Oddfellows, we’re able to do the shows we want to do when we want to do them and the way we want to do them,” said Scott Ewing. “We’re not in an effort contest. We’re in a quality contest, so it’s more about the characters and the stories and being relevant than it is about glitz and glamour.”
And with shows on topics like Alzheimer’s, mental illness and child molestation, the Ewings productions have never been short on relevance.
The challenge — though that is not a word Scott Ewing likes to use — has been attracting audiences to such hard-sell topics.
“People would rather go see a puppet show or something they’ve already heard of,” said Scott Ewing. “We tend to do theater of grit, theater that matters, theater that gets under your skin.”
It is a lofty goal for a theater company in a small community, but it is a goal the company has never shied away from, whether as Ewing Ventures or as the nonprofit Quest Theaterworks.
Part of the reasoning to become a not-for-profit group involved finding the specific audience to whom the group’s shows might appeal.
“We decided to go nonprofit so we could get some support from the community, from those who want to support meaningful theater,” said Scott Ewing. “Now, we’re looking to the community to see if they are out there and willing to support this kind of theater in Nevada County.”
With the first weekend of its debut production already sold out, it appears an audience exists for theater of meaning, as Scott Ewing likes to call it.
“Sealed for Freshness” is about five Mid-Western women hosting a Tupperware party, when they begin to question their place in society and explore their desire for something more than housework and motherhood.
Tickets for “Sealed,” as well as other Quest Theaterworks shows are available at http://questtheaterworks.com or by calling 530-366-5888
Though Oddfellows Hall will only house 48 audience members for the show, chances are they will be 48 of the kind of audience members the Ewings seek to bring into the house.
“We don’t need every potential audience member,” said Scott Ewing. “We just need the ones who want what we want. That’s people who lean into life — some people lean in and some people lean out — and that’s who we’re after.”
It is a good bet, however, that the Ewings will not judge their success by the tickets sold, which Scott Ewing said amount to butts in seats.
More likely, they will find contentment in the tear-stained cheeks and red eyes of patrons who have been moved by the theater of meaning.
To contact Staff Writer Anthony Barstow, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4231.