No Square Theatre aims to entertain by sticking to the silliness of life.
By Tanya A. Yacina
No Square Theatre, a nonprofit community theater, has been entertaining the masses and giving amateur actors, directors and technical staff, as well as theater-inclined youth, the opportunity to showcase their skills on the local stage since 1997. Housed in several different venues over the years, No Square Theatre now proudly calls Laguna Beach’s American Legion building its home.
The theater group presents five or six productions each year, including plays, musicals and cabarets. Shows have ranged from “Into The Woods” to “A Little Night Music.” Perhaps the theater’s most well-known show and local-life parody, “Lagunatics,” celebrates its 30th season this year. No Square also makes its space available for virtual classes and rehearsals, which was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Community theater allows for all the roles to be filled age appropriately, and it creates a really cool dynamic—kids working alongside people who are decades older than they are,” says Bree Burgess Rosen, founding artistic director of No Square Theatre. “It really deepens the relationships between the actors as they genuinely share experiences as friends. It’s a special and unique gift in life to be able to experience it.”
Brigitte Harper, No Square Theatre’s costume designer since 2015, says this organization is a hidden gem. Even though the company is small, it is surrounded by dedicated and talented people. When it comes to costumes, for example, she has plenty of volunteers to help on bigger projects.
“I’ve lived in Laguna Beach since 1981, and we used to be an artist colony, [but] a lot of that has vanished over the years,” Harper says. “No Square Theatre is holding on to what we used to be—a community-oriented place that puts our little town first. It would be wonderful for the community to come see and hear what we are doing, and how important this little theater is for Laguna Beach.”
For Rob Harryman, actor and treasurer for the No Square Theatre Board of Directors, being part of the company has given him the chance to engage with the community. A recently semiretired divisional chief financial officer, Harryman says during his professional career, the theater was a place that allowed him to forget about income statements, business plans and cancer research and just have fun.
“I’ve lived in Laguna for 15 years, and most of the people I know in town are from this little theater and its audiences,” Harryman says. “It makes me care about Laguna more than I think I may have if I weren’t so involved.”
Showcasing the Bright Side of Life
Rosen says productions curated by the No Square Theatre company show a sensitivity to reality. Rather than producing sad, dramatic works, they have a tendency to “go for the silly.” Rosen received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance at its 2022 ceremony to recognize her accomplishments and contributions to the local arts community.
“The thing I think our local community likes best about No Square is ‘Lagunatics,’ which will be performing its 30th annual Roast of the Coast,” Harryman says, noting that the show has been postponed to March 2023 due to scheduling conflicts. “… It’s topical and, though it can strike a nerve here and there, gives locals a chance to hopefully laugh at ourselves over some of the issues we might actually take a little too seriously: parking, development, the village entrance, tourists, City Council.”
However, Harryman says he thinks some people only know No Square Theatre for its “Lagunatics” productions and he hopes more locals come check out the rest of the organization’s performances. “There is a lot of good theater going on under our roof,” he says.
Harryman says he also appreciates that No Square Theatre is a place for people in high school and college to get theatrical experience outside of their schools. For example, in the summer production of “Footloose” (running through Aug. 14), talented youths come from all over Orange County and even LA—some home from college for the summer—and Harryman says they appear to be having a lot of fun together whether onstage or in the social outings after rehearsals.
Evolution of Talent
As the group has grown, Rosen says, it’s become more stable as a company. Amateur performers are guided by professional thespians and musicians, and this is a special dynamic—having that range of people in a room together.
“We’ve all grown up with the theater and we’re all better just for doing it, but we also tap people who have had fabulous careers to share their expertise,” Rosen says. “Plus, we’ve invested a lot of money into the tech side of our theater, which also improves the performances. Having our own space at the American Legion is a huge deal, and having these really talent-heavy people allows us to do more and more difficult performances.”
Harryman says the pandemic has been a key driver in No Square Theatre’s evolution, both in format and content. As the production values continue to improve, he thinks the group has an obligation and the opportunity to provide professional-level entertainment to the community. He hopes No Square will continue its commitment to quality theater and continue to raise awareness and involvement in Laguna Beach.
“I think we have produced musicals worthy of larger houses and the talent that we have in those performances can definitely rival the touring Broadway shows that are being presented here in Orange County,” Harper says, adding that No Square is also raising the bar in its outreach efforts. “… We are launching three new programs to fill the gap in musical theater education in and around Laguna Beach.”
But the main goal, perhaps, is to have fun and remember that they are providing entertainment for the community.
“Our goal is always to keep the silliness alive and well,” Rosen says.
No Square Theatre has been busy working to launch three new enrichment programs for the community.
Theater on the Spectrum
The theater group will be presenting a special performance of each show meant to improve the comfort level of people on the autism spectrum. The program debuts with a rendition of the company’s performance of “Footloose” on Aug. 11, and is possible in part because of a grant provided by Festival of Arts. Among the modifications, there will be no loud noises or blinking lights.
“Live theater can be a trigger to people with sensory issues, but there’s so much joy in the performing arts—everyone should be able to enjoy,” explains Bree Burgess Rosen, founding artistic director of No Square Theatre. “There aren’t any extremes in these shows. Everything is designed around ‘no surprises’ to create a safe, supportive environment for audiences and artists alike.”
Wisdom of the Masters
The Wisdom of the Masters program, likely starting this fall, will offer a masters series that brings Broadway professionals with incredible credits behind their names back to Laguna Beach to share their wisdom in presentations about costume design, performance, directorship and acting. Rosen anticipates it will begin in November with performers from the national tour of “Moulin Rouge.”
“We’ve accomplished our performing arts goals in way of shows and classes; we’re ready to go to the next step,” Rosen says. “We looked around at what was still needed in the community and what isn’t available, and this more than fit the bill.”
To address the marked lack of musical theater in this area, the Access Excellence program will offer education focused on this type of production, starting in September. While local schools provide some theater and music education, it’s generally not curriculum-based and classes are elective.
“What we know is that when you teach young people vocal music, which joins the language of music and language, it changes brain function for life,” Rosen says. “This is super beneficial, and No Square has a well-educated, dedicated and ‘street cred’ group of people who can teach and share this in an affordable way so kids can learn how to audition, pick a monologue, pick up choreography quickly or train their voice.”