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It's got Sondheim. It'll take you to Europe. There's kissing, lots of singing, a little playful gunfire, a deadly serious piece on war's aftermath, and, yes, dancing laundry.

But to really sum up the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company's 2012-13 programming (see here for listings through 2012), one must step back from the individual shows and gaze at the bigger picture of this 25th season.

Or have Scott RC Levy, director of performing arts and producing artistic director, describe it for you.

"We're honoring the work that has come before us by presenting the most acclaimed musical of the 20th century," he says. "We're looking forward by presenting the Colorado premiere of one of the most acclaimed plays of the year. And we're enhancing our offerings by creating this second-stage season, which will provide even more intimate, live-performance opportunities for our audience."

Now in his second year at the FAC, Levy has accomplished much more than ushering booze back into the SaGaJi Theatre during performances. (Thanks again for that, bro.) He's added a sixth show to the main-stage roster, without increasing subscription prices. What's more, he's brought four $15 performances to the "under-utilized, beautiful Art Deco space — the music room — this little jewel-box 108-seat theater that will allow us to explore."

One of those second-stage shows is actually an entirely new play series. Rough Writers, debuting in April, will feature scripts never before read on stage, and give playwrights from around the world "the opportunity to have a reading done by people they don't know — which is very different than friends in your living room," says Levy. "We'll have a talk-back directly after and demand feedback from the audience — they take on a crucial role."

And that's exactly what Levy and the FAC want to do with their audiences: involve them more.

"There's over 100,000 people that use the Fine Arts Center every year. That's a lot, but we're not at capacity," he says. "The more that we have to offer, the more opportunities there are for people to become engaged."

Big brand

To that tune, Levy has also reached out to other theater community members, to further engage them and grow the scene. In early July, he and TheatreWorks artistic director Murray Ross held a first-ever joint open audition to lure new actors to both their companies' stages. Levy says of the 100 or so folks who showed up, a good portion were fresh faces. He's already cast a handful in the season opener, Gypsy (that being "America's greatest musical"), which is the FAC's seventh Stephen Sondheim production inside of the 25 years.

Levy says he plans to solicit smaller community theater groups like Springs Ensemble Theatre and Star Bar Players next year as well, and to continue to open the FAC's performance spaces to the larger community for film, dance and music events such as the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival and Ormao Dance Company shows.

With new options such as B-seating (wherein tickets for the first four rows of the theater's side sections get substantially discounted) on top of last year's additions of Thursday previews, Saturday matinees and additional fan-friendly options, Levy says the FAC's already 20 percent ahead of where it was at this time in 2011, in terms of sold subscriptions.

But patrons are likely responding to more than just schedule and price flexibility: They're coming off of a strong 2011 season that saw the most fiscally successful play in the company's history, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). Like March 2013's Other Desert Cities, a five-time Tony Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist, In the Next Room was also a Colorado premiere — a real coup.

"That bodes really well for the national branding of Colorado Springs as an artistic community," says Levy. "And that's partly what the second-stage season is designed to be — we want to create world premieres. Then, it's not just the presenting of a work that was created elsewhere, but we'll have a hand in the creation of a work that will be presented elsewhere."

Fun times

To simplify: All this excitement and activity speaks to an ever-growing professionalism within the company. That's what music director Roberta Jacyshyn sees, and what she has seen since she started as an accompanist in 1985. That's three years before the repertory was formed, back when a "season" consisted only of two musicals.

"It was more of a community theater" then, she says. "The quality has improved tremendously over time."

Jacyshyn has seen six artistic directors come and go during the span of some 90 musicals to which she's contributed, and she says each has brought something different to the table. For instance, Sandy Bray was key to the fundraising that led to significant theater renovations; Alan Osburn expanded the use of regional talent from the Actors' Equity Association.

Gypsy's close will mark Jacyshyn's departure from the FAC, as she retires from middle-school teaching and this second job, with its six-night-a-week rehearsals starting a month before each performance. "It's a lot of work," she says. "But I wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun."

That's a sentiment to which most people connected to the theater company's 25 years can relate, from underpaid community actors in the days of old to everyone who's contributed behind the scenes on costumes, sets and direction since.

The energy and allure of live performance will never die, but both are especially compelling at today's FAC.

matthew@csindy.com

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