A local theater company that was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic with Zoom videoconferencing productions is now offering its first in-person show of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” this weekend at The Main Theater in Newhall.
Dig Deep Theatre, founded by first-year CalArts acting student and Valencia native Shawnee Badger, is an actor-focused 501(c)3 nonprofit organization aimed at creating opportunities for adult actors to tell meaningful and uplifting stories. “Barefoot in the Park” is one of those stories, Badger told The Signal.
“After we did all these dramas over Zoom, and we all lived through this pandemic — we’re still living through it, truthfully — we wanted to do a show that would make people laugh,” Badger said. “A light-hearted, fun, uplifting show.”
“Barefoot in the Park” tells the story of newlyweds Corie, a free spirit, and Paul Bratter, an uptight lawyer, who lives together in a sixth-floor New York apartment. As the story progresses, Corie sets up her mother, Ethel, with neighbor Victor, and during a double date, chaos ensues and conflict arises, and Corie and Paul consider divorce.
The play stars Nicholas D. Johnson, Linda Thompson, Robert Reeves, Matt Fernandez, John Moskal and Badger in the role of Corie Bratter.
“In various acting classes, there’s a go-to scene that a lot of teachers acting assign,” Badger said, “particularly the fight scene between Paul and Corie, but also the move-in scene. So, I actually did a scene from ‘Barefoot in the Park’ in an acting class, and just had such a blast that I’ve always had it on my list like — it’s a dream role, like a bucket-list show.”
“Barefoot in the Park” is also one of those meaningful and uplifting stories that Dig Deep looks to the present, Badger said. Playwright Simon, she added, is so good at relating the human experience and the human condition, and so good at showing how that experience can sometimes be quite funny.
Case in point: In an introduction for a book of plays called “The Comedy of Neil Simon,” Simon wrote about how his life, as a writer, is like being schizophrenic, able to somewhat step outside of himself and see his life from a safe vantage point to gather material for his work, like when he and his wife were arguing on one occasion and his wife had “no adequate words to express her hurt, frustration and anger,” so she did what seemed to be the only “sensible” and rational thing she could have done. She picked up a frozen veal chop recently left out on the table to defrost, and hurled it at me.” Simon wrote that he was able to see the situation from a spectator’s point of view and, in the moment, he smiled — making his wife all the angrier — because from his seat outside of his body, he could only see the absurdity of being hit in the head with the object he’d later be eating for dinner.
And that’s somewhat like what Dig Deep Theater is all about — it’s the passion to tell stories that “dig deep,” Badger said, to get to the heart and soul and humor of what it means to be human.
She said the theater company is also all about actors striving to dig deep to get in touch with their own core truths of human beings.
“That’s what I’ve always been told,” Badger said of her training. “You know, that’s what an actor should do in their work — try to get to their truth. And so, that’s kind of what inspired this idea of digging deep into yourself.”
But Badger admitted that one major reason for starting Dig Deep was to fuel her acting career.
“I’ve always heard in my training that actors need to create opportunities for themselves,” Badger said. “You know, empower themselves in their careers and not wait for things to fall into their laps. So, during the pandemic, that really hit home for me and it kind of really sunk in that I need to make opportunities for myself because, when we were all at home and there was really no theater, not a lot of filming going on, I wasn’t getting a lot of auditions, so, I just decided I’m going to start a theater company and we’re going to do a Zoom show.”
Badger said she believes her Dig Deep Theater was the first company to do Zoom shows in Santa Clarita. These were one-time shows that drew audiences of about 80 to 100 people, where actors in their own homes on Zoom — some from other parts of the country — performed scenes as if they were on the same stage together. They did “Proof” by David Auburn, “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller and “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams.
“I remember for ‘Glass Menagerie,’ there’s a very iconic prop in that show,” Badger recalled. “It’s a little glass unicorn. So, I bought two glass unicorns on Etsy and I shipped one to Ohio where my scene partner was, and then I kept one. There’s just one moment where I hand it off to him.”
Badger said she gave her glass unicorn from her location on Zoom to what looked like someone offscreen, and her acting partner grabbed his glass unicorn from someone offscreen in his location on Zoom, making it appear as if the two actors were in the same theater space , passing the same object from one to the other.
“We did all that just for that one moment,” she said.
Badger added that she’s excited about doing this first in-person production at The Main and that those who came to the show are in for a good time.
“We have an amazing cast,” Badger continued. “Very talented, funny, funny people in our show. We also have a really beautiful set, and I think it’s unlike anything that has been done at The Main.”
Dig Deep’s production of “Barefoot in the Park” will premiere at 8 pm on Friday, and encore at 2 pm and 8 pm on Saturday, and at 2 pm on Sunday at The Main Theater on Main Street in Newhall.
For more information or to buy tickets, go to DigDeepTheatre.com.