The co-founders of the 5 & Dime Theatre have a mission: they want to assemble “a high quality, culturally relevant, diverse and integrated collection of artistic events…(and) seek to entertain, engage and enrich our current and future audiences.”
Considering the 5 & Dime was just an idea two and a half years ago, this group has made amazing strides toward their mission. This is the story of how a little idea evolved into a full-blown theater company.
In the fall of 2011 Lee Hamby and a group of friends were performing in a show together. They began a conversation about how the urban core needed more live theater. Although Riverside used to have several theaters, they pointed out, it and the downtown area were currently devoid of theater opportunities. So they set out to make a change. In addition to Hamby, the initial discussion included fellow Co-founders Josh Waller, Joshua Taylor, Evan Gould, Staci Cobb Grant, Zeina Salame (not pictured), Judy Gould (not pictured), Caryl Butterley (not pictured) and Craig Leavitt. According to Hamby, “The conversation grew and grew and grew and next thing you know we’re on our ninth production. It’s amazing how fast it happened.”
They began right away, putting together productions and finding performance spaces wherever they could. The first was Farenheit 451, which played at the Jacksonville Public Library. “Carol loved that show and the library was looking to do something for banned books week,” says Hamby. The folks at the library were impressed. “They were shocked. Their theater had never been packed until that night and they didn’t know how we did it.”
The 5 & Dime has dubbed themselves “a nomadic theatre company” because they don’t have a permanent home. The group’s second performance space was at CoRK. Since then, they have also played at Church of the Good Shepherd, Pangaea Live and Underbelly and venues during Downtown Artwalk. In March they were at The Pangaea again performing Matt and Ben, a show dramatizing Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s early scriptwriting days.
Although the group became nomadic out of necessity, they enjoy the flexibility of playing in different spaces. Originally they thought about renting the Petersons Five and Dime in Five Points (formerly the home of Fuel Coffehouse), and that’s where they got their name.
“It’s funny because we never planned to be nomadic, but we discovered that it’s a great thing to not be confined to one type of space. They are all so different that we can find one that conforms to a specific show,” says Hamby.
“It has allowed us to set ourselves apart from others,” adds Josh Waller. But moving from space to space has also been their biggest challenge. “If we just had a rehearsal and storage space we would be in good shape,” he points out.
Hamby’s job is to identify the right spaces, but he says that it is time consuming and every space is very different. What poses another challenge is that they are usually required to rehearse in one spot and perform in another. “The most time we’ve had in a performance space is a week,” says Hamby. They have rehearsed in many spaces and are very grateful to their hosts. “CoRK and WJCT have both been very generous to us.”
Nomadic or not, audiences respond well to the company’s engaging style of theater, according to Waller. “People like to feel a part of it. We want the experience to be immersive.” But perhaps the changing of venues adds to this “immersive” and lively quality. Waller points out, “Even if we had a permanent space we would still want to take our shows to different spaces.”