COLUMBIA — Have you heard about Theatre NXS?
This was the subtext of Sunday night’s concert reading of “Lizzy” in the Tiger Hotel’s ballroom. Admission was free for the intimate performance of LR Hults’ play about terminal disease and blue-collar heroism.
“Playwright” was only one of several hats worn by Hults. He portrayed “Max” in the reading, and, in his new position as artistic director, he championed the hatchling Theatre NXS. A vision is in place, a location has been found and federal tax-exempt status is pending.
“I really think that we can get people to see how important theater can be,” Hults said.
The theater will occupy a space on Walnut Street between Orr and Tenth streets. The business plan dubs the location “The Catacombs” and deems it “funky.” In that sense, it’s a fitting home to Hults’ dream,
He sees the Catacombs as one day being a sort of art haven, a place for music and dance, which he refers to as “movement,” and visual arts to accompany the centerpiece performances. There will be acting classes and voice lessons, “open mic nights” and four weekly shows, all aiming to stretch boundaries in one way or another.
“I think that the place of Theatre NXS is to open people’s minds,” Hults said. A flock of adjectives landed liberally in his and the actors’ conversations on Sunday night, words such as “progressive,” “edgy” and “challenging.”
“We’re an open community in so many ways,” said actor Jonna Wiseman. “I think it’s a really exciting venture.”
Wiseman performed the title role of “Lizzy” in a concert-style setting. The play’s 10 performers sat in chairs facing the 20 or so members of the audience and separated from them by a line of music stands. When the actors rose to read their parts, they put their scripts on the stands.
In case attendees were a little unclear about what brand of theater will call Theatre NXS home, “Lizzy” — saturated with lead-heavy themes and a sailor’s salty talk — provided an incredibly colorful sample.
Hults’ first attempt to launch a theater, in 2001, was met with ambivalence. But he thinks something’s happened since then, turning Columbia more toward the arts, and he is ready for it.
“The whole climate of the city’s changed,” he said.
Hults’ love for theater is palpable. When asked what place the form has in modern society, he reeled, unsure where to even begin. He ticked through a spectrum, starting with the sheer entertainment value of a good comedy. He continued, saying theater can be used “to change lives, to change the way people think.”
Have you heard about Theatre NXS? In Hults’ view, the fuse has been lit.