Cast Aside Productions has a unique theater concept: pay its actors and help boost Portland’s economy.
As a professional actor, David Surkin had a vision of the theater company he wanted to create in Maine: he wanted to create a theater where performers, from both Maine and around the country, could get paid to create. “I believe that an environment where there is no option to be paid for your art can and often will lead to the exploitation of performing artists,” says Surkin. With this in mind, Portland-based Cast Aside Productions (CAP) was designed to be a place where all artists are compensated for their work.
CAP premiered its first production, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years in 2014. The brains behind the non-union professional company include Artistic Director Surkin, Executive Director Celeste Green, and Music Director Rebekkah Willey. The trio met after escaping the entertainment industries of Los Angeles and New York City in favor of a small theater in Maine where Cast Aside began.
Aside from providing a paying job for artists, CAP also aims to enhance the Portland economy. “This city is so full of amazing things to see and world-class restaurants,” Surkin says. “We believed there also needed to be world-class entertainment, especially musical theater, to allow someone visiting to experience something as equally amazing as what this city offers in terms of food.”
Considering the choices in productions, the pun on the name Cast Aside seems to work well for the company in terms of its taste for dark, absurd, and beautiful work that may be otherwise overlooked. The 2017 season was crafted specifically to be an entertaining and funny escape from the recent election year. The first half of the year featured Gutenberg! while the second half includes Hedwig and the Angry Inch in August and The Pillowman (the company’s first full-length play) in late October.
The company is also in heavy pre-production for the New England premiere of Disaster! with its production scheduled to be one of the first after the show’s Broadway run last year. “We have been in contact with one of the creators and original director of the Broadway production, Jack Plotnick, to implement some script changes that were added for the London production,” Surkin says. “To work so closely with the original production team is an honor and we are excited to bring this hilarious show to Portland this July.”
Aside from full-length productions, CAP also hosts a series of “Boozicals.” These are free shows performed at the Flask Lounge in Portland the first Wednesday of every month. Next month the theme is Lin-Manuel Miranda vs. Stephen Sondheim. “I saw musical theater people taking over karaoke nights in Portland, making casual karaoke performers insecure because the spirit of karaoke isn’t about belting out a song with a table of your friends doing six-part harmony in perfect pitch,” says Surkin. “So as a company we decided we wanted to hang out at a bar and talk about musical theater, hear great performances, and let the casual karaoke fans sing ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ in peace.”
“The world of musical theater is beautiful and bizarre and wonderful,” Surkin adds, “and these events allow us to connect to the people that are into that.”