One can take the pulse of a community's theater scene by counting the number of new or little-known shows that are produced. It's always a risk to stage something new because, more than likely, the audiences will be small.
But theater patrons who are willing to try something new are also an appreciative lot, and if a show is good, they'll spread the word. Last summer a new musical, The Spitfire Grill, played to good crowds at New Salem. It was also beautifully produced and performed.
Now comes the premiere of 63, an original play with music by local director Michael Savage, opening this week at the Jacksonville Theatre Guild and running Sept. 10-12 and 17-19. Savage directed JTG's Always . . . Patsy Cline a couple of years ago, and he's brought with him the two lead actresses of that show -- Lori Ann Fahnders and Rebecca Watts -- to create new roles in 63. Watts has written some original songs for the show as well.
Savage's play follows the lives of two friends in 1963, the year in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the civil-rights movement was at its height, and the war in Vietnam was heating up. For tickets to this new, exciting show, call 245-1402.
JTG is also auditioning actors for its production of The Haunting of Hill House. Karl Bockemeier is directing the show, which has a cast of four women and three men, ages 25 and older. Auditions will be held 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, at the JTG office, 210 W. College Ave. Rehearsals begin Sept. 13.
In other theater news:
• Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson is directing a new play, The View of the Dome, at the UIS Studio Theatre in November; auditions for this political comedy about Washington insiders will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Sept. 19 and 20, in the studio-theater space on the lower level of the Public Affairs Building on campus (beneath the Sangamon Auditorium).
• The Roxy Group is bringing a popular St. Louis group to Springfield for the first time. The 10th Street Trio will perform songs from the 1930s through the 1960s for two shows at the Center for the Arts, 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12. For reservations, call 523-2787.
• StageWest is presenting a dinner-theater show titled Wild & Woolly Old West That Never Was, directed by Julia Harney, 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 17 and 18, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, in the gym at West Side Christian Church, 2850 Cider Mill Lane. Call 793-2800 for tickets.
• Next week brings the musical Sunday in the Park with George, playing at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. This is the Springfield Theatre Centre's first production in the center, and it's the perfect vehicle. The musical tells the story of Georges Seurat's famous 1886 painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte -- 1894, which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. For ticket info, call 523-ARTS.