Most people would say the most important criteria for a successful theatrical performance are talented actors, an insightful director and a well-written show. For one local group, perspective is the single most influential factor.
"Theatre from a different vantage point" is the guiding philosophy for Vantage Theatre, sister company to NewWorks, a 20-year-old San Diego nonprofit created to bring drama to schoolchildren. Two individuals that keep the view interesting are husband-and-wife La Jollans Dori Salois and Robert Salerno.
"We always hope people will take away questions," Salerno said. "Theater's job is to prompt fundamental questions about society and self, rather than spoon-feed pat, pre-digested answers and opinions."
Salois serves as artistic director but has worked in the capacity of director, producer and actor. Salerno is currently the group's artist-in-residence. His talents range from playwright and director to special effects and multimedia designer.
Both are originally from the East Coast. Salois juggles her theatrical responsibilities with her career as a geriatric case manager. In his former life, Salerno was an ob/gyn practitioner. The couple have lived in La Jolla for more than 20 years, with their daughters Dominique and Gabby.
Drama called to Salois and Salerno early on in their lives, individually and as a couple. Salois began performing at age 6 and has remained active in the theatrical industry ever since. A writer for many years, Salerno pursued an eclectic academic career in arts and philosophy that eventually led to psychology and medicine. He left his medical practice to return to the arts about 10 years ago.
While dating, the couple had an unusual experience that opened their eyes to theater from a different perspective. They attended a showing of "Artery," which took place in a large warehouse. Spectators became characters in the show, performing various scenes as they walked through the building, listening to prerecorded directions on Walkman headphones. Salois and Salerno later brought this experimental production to San Diego.
Vantage Theatre seeks to exhibit shows that explore big ideas in a different way and to bring genres together in new combinations. Past performances have included musicals, dramas and comedies. "Orpheus Rox," written over five years by Salerno, fused Greek mythology with 1960s culture. Presented "in the round, but inside-out," the show incorporated video imagery and audience participation. Other shows performed by the group include "The Importance of Being Earnest, The Musical," "The Painting," "Frankie and Johnny," "The Holy Man" and "The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower" and "Death by Survival."
Preparing to open on Sunday, May 13 is "The School of the World," written by Poway playwright Sal Cipolla. Based on actual events in Renaissance history, specifically the commission of two separate murals to be painted by Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci in the Great Hall of the Palazzo Vecchio, the play speculates about what might have actually happened between the two notoriously competitive artists.
Cipolla pitched his idea to Salois at last year's Actors Alliance Festival in San Diego.
"As soon as he started talking Michelangelo, DaVinci, arts, politics, religion, I was interested," she said.
The great artists' rivalry, the fact that both murals were mysteriously left uncompleted and the dynamics of papal influence on government, religion, society and art provide fodder for interesting what-ifs.
"The thing I liked about it is it's a very interesting combination of fact and fantasy," said Salerno, who co-directed the play with Salois. "There's a lot that isn't known about the facts that allows for some license with fantasy. It's a serious play, but it's got a lot of humor interlaced through it."
Aside from colorful curiosity and speculation about two of the most well-known men in world history is the fact that "The School of the World" offered a technical challenge to the directors. Over the course of the play, the murals are created and come to life. There is also a scene where Michelangelo flies, wearing a parachute designed by DaVinci.
"There are a lot of visual surprises," Salois said.
Scheduled to open in October, Salerno's "Mozart's Last Year" is a play about the composer's death. Like all Vantage Theatre productions, it will give new treatment to an old topic. Salerno described it as a coming together of Mozart, music, death and modern physics in the 11th dimension.
Driven to share what she describes as "aha!" moments, Salois is always on the lookout for a new show or unusual idea. She said living where she does is partly why she's able to achieve this goal.
"We rely on friends in the La Jolla community for ideas, energy and resources," she said.
With Salerno and the other team members of Vantage Theatre, she remains dedicated to bringing audiences dramatic entertainment from a different vantage point.
"The School of the World" runs May 13 to June 9 at the Centro Cultural de La Raza, located at 2004 Park Ave. Tickets cost $15 to $20.
For reservations, call (619) 235-6135. For information about Vantage Theatre, visit http://home.san.rr.com/vantagetheatre or call (858) 456-9664.