Synthetic Unlimited turns community theater on its head
January 7, 2013
Synthetic Unlimited began coming together in 2002 with a handful of friends hoping to push the envelope of community theater.
They wanted to produce edgy, poignant performances that were outside the box. In doing so, it became a place for artists and performers to find their footing, hone their craft and spread their wings.
Now, after nearly 10 years and almost 200 members, the production company is ready to take flight and hit the road.
In addition to a number of readings, concerts, and variety and themed shows, the artist-owned-and-operated company produces an annual summer show.
After the success of last year's Anthony and Cleopatra at the Nevada Theatre, the group decided to expand.
According to the company's manager and cofounder Jimmy McCammon, an enormous amount of work goes into a production that ultimately lasts just three or four weeks when the performers are just hitting their stride, so now they're looking to prolong the productions with regional tours.
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"We live in kind of a sweet spot for performers," McCammon said. "There are so many unique and talented theater companies here in the foothills. We're trying to create a localized tour schedule that will include stops in Davis and Chico and towns throughout Northern California."
To do that, the group needs — among other things — a traveling stage, generators and lighting equipment In order to get there, the company is stepping up membership opportunities and investing time and effort into video production, which McCammon notes is the best advertising out there.
Annual and monthly memberships are designed for anyone who wishes to support the group.
They will soon be available online and include varying levels of "swag" and discounts on performances. Anyone can also become a member by working on a production, either as an actor, designer or volunteer.
"A lot of our members start out by volunteering and they continue working with us until they go off to college or New York," McCammon said in slight jest.
"One of the biggest reasons we started this is we wanted something to do between high school and college, or college and your dream job. That's basically us – we invented it as a way to stay busy until we run off to do other things."
Synthetic Unlimited does attract a number of younger performers, which keeps the material edgy and more adult oriented. It's also created a strong undercurrent of encouragement and camaraderie.
"When one of our members has an idea, we stand behind them. Our productions are training grounds and really gung ho. There are a lot of creative challenges and it's an awesome group effort. It really gets you ready for working in performance arts."
McCammon moved to Grass Valley when he was 11 or 12, then went to college in Southern California.
It wasn't until his last year there that he became interested in acting, directing and literary arts. Once he realized several of his friends in Nevada County were all pursuing the same craft, he came back.
Micah Cone, a Nevada City native who was active in the Nevada County Performing Arts Guild at the age of seven, was also behind the evolution of Synthetic Unlimited.
"We started in 2002 under the name Tastes Like Dentist," Cone said.
"We wrote, produced and directed all our own shows for a few years then it turned into Synthetic Unlimited, due in no small part to Jimmy, who helped get us off the ground. We've had a lot of success in presenting theatrical pieces in a way that may be a little out of the box, new and fresh. I want to turn the idea of community theater on its head – that's a common goal we all have."
While Synthetic Unlimited has no scheduled dates or performances on the calendar, the group is working to get something lined up at the Stonehouse (Cone notes rumors of dinner theater), keeping busy with promotional videos (that include readings, ad libs and testimonials), and gearing up for their annual summer performance (which takes place in June, rather than August this year).
"We try to put a new spin on things we produce," McCammon said. "We want to showcase our original works and be experimental, but embrace the classics as well."
"We want to keep it exciting and lively," Cone added. "At the very least we want to keep you awake."
For more information about Synthetic Unlimited performances, memberships and news, go to http://www.syntheticunlimited.org, or call 888-957-4697.