The thing is, it’s people like Sein whose efforts fuel what life there is.
Take Point Loma Actors Theatre, of which Sein is the founder and managing/artistic director. The group has been quietly fielding casts and creating actor-intensive workshops for eight seasons; its body of work includes 125 productions large and small under a staff whose live stage time totals more than 30 years.
And the instructors themselves aren’t exactly the hallmarks of inexperience. Noted local actor DeAnna Driscoll, Old Globe Theatre assistant director Hannah Ryan, San Diego comic Tony Calabrese and Sein himself, who’s directed and produced for 25 years, have taught classes and created shows off the beaten path, standing on very little ceremony as the city’s creative elite mount their pieces by the book.
The L.A.-born Sein, 68, cites theater as an inbred personal need. Storytelling has been an integral part of his commercial life — he’s a former documentary writer for PBS, and he launched a small theater in Palm Springs.
“Wherever I go, I try to start something,” he said. “It’s important to give people the opportunity to ply their trade. If we make money, that’s one thing, but it’s seeing them on stage doing their thing that’s most important.”
The play’s the thing, he said — the magical act of storytelling that draws people from every walk of life and level of talent. Sein’s charges feature wannabes, housewives, attorneys who want to perfect their dramatic acumen and retirees looking for a social setting. They all have a narrative, Sein said, including a longtime Broadway director who’d walked in and kept his occupation a secret until deep into rehearsal.
The stage “changes their lives,” Sein said. “That’s something I’ve seen happen over the course of the years I’ve been involved. Somebody walks in who’s not able to lift their head at first; 12 weeks later, you can’t shut ’em up.”
The stage is located at 3035 Talbot St. in the Point Loma Assembly Building. Although Sein didn’t cite budgetary figures for Point Loma Actors, he said, “Our theater has been self-sufficient, and I can’t say that for most theaters. Artists aren’t businesspeople.”
Sometimes, they’re not even artists.
In May, the group mounted its second so-called 24 Experiment program, which involves the productions of plays written by 24 itinerant playwrights, performed by 24 itinerant actors, helmed by 12 itinerant directors and mounted in 24 hours. The writers fleshed out their stories all night, with the directors and actors rehearsing all next day and presenting their shows that evening.
Baltimore is among the other cities that have copied this formula for years. That’s where Gwen Walls fell on it, bringing the idea to Point Loma Actors last year. She wrote and performed in “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner,” the only dramatic play on the slate.
Walls, 36, is a technical writer who moved to San Diego in 2009. She’s been writing plays since age 7 and holds a master’s degree in writing from Towson University.
“We get a lot of people who come to California,” Walls said, “because that’s kind of the dream, to be a participant. But L.A. is far away, and so is New York, and we still get a lot of enthusiasm, because there are a lot of people hungry for art in San Diego.
“There’s a lot that comes out when you’ve been up all night,” Walls said of the experiment. “But the experiment is just as legitimate as the best play you’ll ever see, because it tells us about the human condition.”
That condition, Sein added, isn’t always enough to galvanize people to action.
“When I hear somebody say, ‘I want to be an actor,’ I say, ‘Well, what are you doing in a workshop? If you want to be an actor, go act. Go get on a stage.’ We have huge amounts of talent in San Diego, but very few of them leave the nest. Some do, and some are very successful.”
That observation echoes his take on San Diego theater.
“San Diego,’” he said, “is a surfing, partying, beer-drinking town. Will it ever be [a destination theater city]? I don’t think so. I’ve seen great theater in San Diego and some stuff that isn’t the greatest in the world. Local government support for theater is low. But it is what it is. Anything is possible.”
“The nest,” after all, means different things to different people. The crowd at Point Loma Actors Theatre leaves it in their own time and in their own way. And their willingness to throw caution to the wind in search of the story is as powerful a statement about local theater as any.
Point Loma Actors is looking for writers and directors to participate in future 24-hour Experiments.
For more information on the group, visit www.pointlomaactors.com.