COEUR d’ALENE — As a business model, free theater might not be as crazy as it sounds.
“The idea is to bridge that gap between all these performers and theater people and people who don’t really know much about theater...and maybe they’ll fall in love,” said Marie Hunt of Red Bird Theater’s latest production, “Into the Woods.”
Marie and husband Daniel have been involved with theater since they were in high school.
“From early in our dating relationship we always talked about owning a theater someday,” Marie said.
Five years ago, the Hunts moved their family of five to Coeur d’Alene from McMinnville, Ore., to be closer to Daniel’s family. About a year later, the Hunts welcomed another child. Eventually, after living a traditional family life, the Hunts thought maybe it was time to revisit their youthful plans.
“Obviously, Marie has dreams and visions for her own life that she’s really placed on hold to have these babies and raise these kids...Marie’s been such a support to me and my career that it’s her turn,” Daniel said through tears. “So this is hers. That’s what we’re building. We’re building her dream together and it’s been a crazy ride.”
The ride is called Red Bird Theater.
The Hunts wanted to do things differently.
“That’s what I told the cast — this is the Wild West of theater,” Marie said. “It’s going to be rough, but it’s going to be awesome.”
Initially, they decided to offer lower ticket prices than surrounding theaters, at $25 a seat. But what’s more unusual is the company’s lure to develop a strong customer base. Red Bird wants newcomers to test drive the theater experience.
“Test drive is for people who’ve never been to the theater before and have no idea if it’s worth $25 or not,” Daniel said.
For $15 more, patrons can upgrade to the “Red Carpet Experience.” These patrons receive a custom lapel pin and early entry to the theater where a documentary about the production will be played.
Hoping to bring those who’ve never been to a theatrical production into the theater, Red Bird is selling tickets to “Into the Woods” for $1, which will be given back to patrons when they arrive at the show. Instead of charging per seat, Red Bird asks that those who’ve never been to a show pay what they think it’s worth afterward, as a donation.
“A lot of theaters rely on previous audiences to sell their tickets...but our vision is to try to find a way to get new audiences involved and fresh eyes on theater,” Marie said.
Red Bird is banking on the quality of their performances to keep the theater running, as it’s self-funded by the Hunts. No sponsors.
“Marie and I took our savings and we said, ‘We’re going to do this. We’re investing in ourselves and in this team,” Daniel said.
The Hunts aren’t the only ones with faith in Red Bird. Earlier this year they were contacted by Laura Little, a Tony Award-winning producer based in Coeur d’Alene. Little was hoping to welcome the Hunts to the Coeur d’Alene theater community after hearing about the opening of Red Bird Theater. Now, Little is mentoring Marie, and both the Hunts are producers of Little’s annual production “Traditions of Christmas.”
Little said of Marie, “She really is like a mini-me in her desire to produce quality theater and tell good stories with a good message.”
After putting on their first feature-length original show in 2018, Marie and Daniel began searching for their first licensed musical, eventually choosing “Into the Woods.”
“We love the show. Both of us have loved it for a long time,” Marie said. “Daniel has played the role of the prince before, and the movie had just come out as well. So, we were thinking it would be something people would recognize outside the theater world.”
The Hunts began the search for actors suited to Red Bird’s standards. “One of my favorite things to do and one of the reasons I wanted to start a theater really is I love casting...so for a whole year, I went to every show in the area, knowing we were doing ‘Into the Woods,’ Marie said. “I was taking notes and making a list of who could be great in different roles.”
When Marie found someone she felt fit a role, the Hunts reached out to those actors and offered them the part. No one turned them down.
Rehearsals for Red Bird’s 2019 production of “Into the Woods” began in November. 2018. Both Marie and Daniel have roles in front of, and behind, the curtain.
“Our roles, because we’re a new theater, are many and varied...I’m doing the costumes and Daniel’s doing the marketing,” said Marie.
“She’s got her sewing machine in the kitchen and she’s just cranking them out. It’s a labor of love,” Daniel said. Marie will be playing Cinderella and Daniel a prince.
Daniel and Marie are both credited as producers of the show, while Marie carries the additional title of artistic director. “All the decisions are run by me so that there’s a cohesive aesthetic to the show,” Marie said.
You can catch “Into the Woods” Sept. 19-21 or Sept. 26-29 at The Salvation Army Kroc Center.
Red Bird Theater’s contact information: www.redbirdcda.com or call (509) 999-9496
Ticket information: shop.redbirdcda.com or visit the box office at The Salvation Army Kroc Center 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, given they do not sell out before the show.
Box office information: The Salvation Army Kroc Center is located at 1765 W. Golf Course Road in Coeur d’Alene.