Brett Moellenberg knew he and his co-stars had struck a nerve as they watched theatergoers file out of The Spot after watching the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Next to Normal” in January.
One person left, an anguished look on his face, after watching the distraught mother in the edgy musical wrestle with bipolar disorder. Another left pleased that the theater company had tackled such a tough issue in its first production.
When all six performances sold out, the cast added additional seats, along with a seventh performance.
“We were blown away by the response—we’re still in shock,” said Peter Burke, one of the founding members of The Spot.
The Spot opened in September 2014 at 220 Lewis Street in Ketchum’s light industrial district as a conservatory for young artists wanting to hone their voice, dance and acting skills. Founders introduced the venue to the community by screening a short film that locals had made spoofing paranormal researchers. They even served up a potluck of trailer park food like Jell-O salad and Cheez Whiz.
The Spot hosted a concert a few weeks later. Then its founders decided to plunge into “Next to Normal.”
“We want to do shows that delve into what’s difficult about being human,” Moellenberg said.
Jane Reynolds has followed three of the founders’ careers since they started as actors in St. Thomas Playhouse’s youth program. “This is a young group of people who grew up in the area and had a dream. To do the kind of content they did in ‘Next to Normal’ takes a lot of maturity and guts,” she said.
Indeed, Kevin Wade is a Sun Valley native who grew up on the stage of the Community School and St. Thomas Playhouse. He studied acting at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, returning home each summer to coach teenagers in summer theater projects like “West Side Story.” He returned to Sun Valley in May after graduating from Harvard University with a Master of Fine Arts degree.
Peter Burke, a fellow Tisch alumnus, grew up vacationing in Sun Valley. He and Moellenberg began joining Wade in helping out with St. Thomas Playhouse. Burke is now the upper school media specialist at the Community School; Moellenberg directs St. Thomas Playhouse.
The trio researched high school performing arts conservatory programs across the country before setting up The Spot. The group was sitting by the Big Wood River one day, nursing beers, when Yanna Lantz—the fourth founding member—made a toast: “This is the spot,” meaning Sun Valley.
“Kevin said, ‘That’s the name!’ ” recalled Burke.
On a recent warm spring day, Moellenberg and Lantz sat on the floor of The Spot leading a circle of four high school boys and two teenage girls through warm-up exercises, rolling their tongues around in their mouths and screaming, “Baby, you love me!”
They then explored the motivation behind scenes in scripts like “The Breakfast Club,” before acting them out.
–Peter Burke, co-founder, The Spot
“Be slightly theatrical, not over-exaggerating,” Lantz told Kristian Whittaker and Cutter Grathwohl, two Community School actors.
“We love to teach, and kids here love to learn,” Burke said.
The Spot hopes to expand to adult classes. And it hopes to put on concerts and other shows in conjunction with gallery walks and other community events. If all goes according to plan, The Spot will put on its second play—the Tony Award-winning musical comedy, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”—in July and August.