Spotlight On ATX Theatre Companies

A different one of our affiliated companies will be featured here each month.

Spotlight On: Ground Floor Theatre

An Interview with Lisa Scheps, Founder & Co-Artistic Director

June 2021

When did your company begin? What was your first show and why?

Ground Floor Theatre (GFT) came about in 2014 after a conversation with Ken Webster of FronteraFest/Hyde Park Theatre and Christi Moore of FronteraFest/Scriptworks discussing the lack of theatre venues in Austin. Patti Neff-Tiven and I teamed up to form GFT with a mission of producing works by and for underrepresented communities. Our first production in 2015 was Parade. Parade is a powerful musical by Jason Robert Brown about the true story of Leo Frank who was a Jewish man falsely accused of killing a young girl. Leo Frank was pulled out of the jail and lynched by an antisemitic mob. We chose this for a variety of reasons: it fit fully within our mission, the story is powerful and not told often, and the music is extremely challenging. We produce a (non-holiday) musical every December.

Photo by Kenny Gall of There and Back by Raul Garza, directed by Patti Neff-Tiven, Scenic Design by Ia Ensterä, Lighting Design by Natalie George, Costume Design by Pam Fletcher Friday, Pictured: Karina Dominguez & Giselle Marie Muñoz

Where does your company perform?

We are fortunate enough to have our own venue at Airport and Springdale (979 Springdale Rd., #122, Austin, TX 78702).  GFT is a versatile black box theatre with lovely high ceilings (16' grid), full lighting, sound and video, 2 dressing rooms, a green room, AND a bathroom for cast and crew!!! Our lobby/gallery provides a place for local visual artists to feature their work. We offer the wall space free of charge and do not charge a commission if a piece is sold at our theatre.

 

If I wanted to bring a date to your theatre, what might a typical night out look like? Do you offer drinks/snacks? Are there places to eat nearby? Is there parking?

You could make a day of it! Start around 3 p.m. with a glass blowing class at Ghost Pepper Glass, then a little shopping at the incredible Blackfeather Vintage Works followed by an early dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants like Sawyer & Co, Justine’s, or Jacoby’s. After you and your date are suitably full, head on over to GFT, park in one of our many spaces, enjoy snacks from our concession stand, take in the art in our gallery, and see some amazing theatre. After the show, stay on the property and get some cider at Austin Eastciders or a beer at Friends & Allies brewery. After that? Well, that is up to you.

 

What is your favorite part of the theatre production process?

We love fostering new work. The creative process thrills and excites us. The initial script that the director reads goes through updates before the cast and designers get involved; it changes during the rehearsal process as the actors add to each of their characters. So that what finally ends up on stage is a true collaboration between many theatre artists.

 

What is your mission statement and are you doing it?

Ground Floor Theatre fosters an environment for creative thinkers and artists to produce works by and for under-represented communities, lifting voices that need to be heard to people who need to hear them — working to create equity through art. Ground Floor Theatre provides performance space for companies that share our vision and serves as a creative home for the Austin performance community for collaboration and artistic development. 

We do this by choosing works that speak directly to our mission and staffing our shows appropriately. Also, we have a vision of Theatre for Everyone therefore all of our shows are pay-what-you-can. We do not want theatre to have a financial barrier. We subsidize this by offering VIP tickets and subscriptions that cost a bit more and help us pay for those that cannot afford a full-price ticket.

 

What kind of work do you do and why? What was you all-time favorite production so far? 

All of our work is mission driven and runs the gamut from dramas to comedies to musicals as well as workshops and our new quarterly artist in residence program, “GFT in Residence.” Our favorite production? We love all of our children equally!

 

How do you pick your scripts?

This is an evolving process. Currently our two artistic directors choose the pieces, but we are looking into opening up the selection process to continue our mission-driven work.

 

How do you hire? Do you attend unified auditions?

For individual shows, we hire our cast, creative team, and technicians by collaborating with the director and consultation with other stakeholders. We do attend the unified auditions and have cast actors that we first saw there.

 

Is your company a LORT/regional/resident theatre, a small professional theatre (SPT), a transitional theatre, or a community theatre?*

We are classified as Small Professional Theatre. But, since we are based in Austin, use Austin talent, and our mission is about serving Austin, we would add the word “community” in there somewhere… Perhaps Small Professional Community Theatre.

 

Anything else you want to tell us?

Only that we are so proud of the theatre community in Austin and truly hope every theatre here succeeds in its individual mission which will raise the tide for ALL theatre in Austin. We are also thrilled to be the inaugural Spotlight On theatre company for ATX Theatre!

* Definitions: 

LORT/Regional/Resident Theatres offer Actor’s Equity contracts for every show and every participant is compensated for work.

Small Professional Theatres offer Equity contracts for some shows; every participant is compensated for work.

Transitional Theatres offer stipends for every participant for every show, but don’t offer Equity contracts yet.

Community Theatres pay some people sometimes, but do not have a uniform pay structure, and utilize many unpaid volunteers.