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  • The magic remains for Off Broadstreet

    Theater has been doing its way for 30 years

    Andrew Wedgbury

    Nevada City Advocate

    For almost 30 years, Off Broadstreet Theatre has entertained crowds at its home, hidden away on Commercial Street. The brainchild of Jan Kopp and John Driscoll opened on Sept. 22, 1989, and has now produced more than 60 original shows that have built a large and loyal following. 

    Originally the site of the Magic Theater movie house at 305 Commercial St., Kopp and Driscoll opened their venue after only a few weeks of preparation, renovation and rehearsal. Since those simple beginnings, Off Broadstreet has developed into a prime Nevada City attraction.

    “We had decided we were going to do ‘Dress Rehearsal,’ which we had done over at the old York Street Blues,” Driscoll said. “We started working on that at our house, with the cast in our pool house. We had issues and delays about getting in the building, but when we finally got in here at the beginning of September, we had 18 days to completely gut it, renovate it, build a stage, put up lights, a director’s booth and a dressing room, and open with ‘Dress Rehearsal II.’ ”

    Over the years the couple has hit on a successful combination of music, comedy and memorable characters that has led to many sold out shows. “We try and put out an honest product that entertains people,” he said. “And more and more when people are leaving after a show, they say ‘thank you for being here. We look forward to this every time we have visitors from out of town. We bring them here because it always feels good.’” 

    A big part of the intimate feel of Off Broadstreet is not only its small size, but also Kopp and Driscoll themselves. Before every show the couple circulates through the theater, visiting just about every table and personally greeting patrons. At the end of the production, they and the cast are at the front door, meeting customers and thanking old friends. 

    “Another thing that’s so neat about it is that because people come regularly, and it’s a small venue, they’re seeing people they’ve seen before, so it’s like a party with your neighbors at Jan and John’s house,” Driscoll said.

    The current production at Off Broadstreet is called “Sweet Nothin’s,” starring Karen Leigh Sharp, Krissi DeKowzan, Tasa Proberts, Rebekah Martino and Heidi Gross. The musical revue, another original by Kopp and Driscoll, explores “The Year of the Woman” through songs that span decades with close harmony vocals by the cast and a comedic script about a political fundraiser. 

    Driscoll explained that every show that they write comes from a different place and that for this show they saw that with women gaining more recognition, and Off Broadstreet having a history of an entertainment “underdog,” a seed for a show had been planted.

    “A kind of ongoing theme for many of our shows is being the scrappy underdog,” he added. The new show features an all-female cast, many of whom have never been on stage at Off Broadstreet before. 

    “They’re telling the story of the evolution of women in our society from the 1960s through the present through song. 

    They’re putting on this fundraiser for a woman, Elizabeth Estrada, who’s running as an independent for the Third Congressional District in L.A., and it’s all about women coming into power,” Driscoll said.

    As a humorous aside, he said he thought that if the grandmothers were in charge of things, there would be a lot more communication, leading to a safer and more humane place. “Women collaborate, and that’s what we need.”

    The evolution of each script is different, and while some that the duo writes are entirely put together before working on rehearsals, this one was unique. For “Sweet Nothin’s,” they first looked at the songs that tied into the message of women’s evolution, then got together with the cast to see how they worked together. 

    Three of the actors Driscoll had never worked with before, so chemistry was important. From that point, lines were written that most suited the actors and their characters. 

    “We wanted to see what natural gifts that they brought to the character as a person. Then I write the character along those lines, so they are basically playing themselves,” Driscoll added.

    After 30 years, over 60 shows and the downtown fire of 2002 that burned Friar Tuck’s and their theater to the ground, Kopp and Driscoll have not only developed a winning entertainment formula (did I mention the delicious desserts?) but continue to be excited about what they are doing and where they are doing it. 

    “It’s great to be here, doing something you love. We’re usually not in the shows anymore, so when the show is over, we stand in the back and it’s like we’ve done a really successful sermon, and now people are leaving the church,” Driscoll said.

    Sweet Nothin’s opened on March 23 and continues until April 28. For ticket, schedule and more information, visit offbroadstreet.com. email obs@offbroadstreet.com or call 530-265-8686.

    About the photo:   

    (L -R) Krissi DeKowzan, Rebekah Martino, Tasa Proberts, Heidi Gross and Karen Leigh Sharp are performing in Sweet Nothin’s at Off Broadstreet Theatre in downtown Nevada City.   

    Photo by Andrew Wedgbury