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To make it in show business, you've got to have Moxie

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"You have to find the glamour in the work that's not so glamorous."

As Delicia Turner Sonnenberg continues to learn, while starting a theater company may seem easy, sustaining one is far from it.

With the constant effort of seeking grants and donations; red tape and seemingly endless paperwork; renting a performance space; recruiting talented actors and designers; and actually producing shows that will draw audiences, it's impressive that San Diego has the amount of high-quality small theater companies that it does -- especially in a recession, where the arts might be considered a luxury expense for cash-strapped theatergoers.

But for 4-year-old Moxie, one thing its founders -- prominent local theater artists Jo Anne Glover, Liv Kellgren, Sonnenberg and Jennifer Eve Thorn -- don't have to worry about this summer is location.

Thanks to the Resident Theatre Program at La Jolla Playhouse, Moxie was able to take advantage of a rare opportunity to have a free space -- the Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Forum Studio -- in which to rehearse and put on plays through this September.

Spearheaded by Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley, the program's objective is to assist the progression of up-and-coming theater companies, which in turn will enhance the San Diego theater scene overall. Furthermore, the program addresses the lack of affordable, available performance spaces throughout the region by providing a temporary space to companies without a permanent venue, and provides those in residency with some production support and marketing assistance to gain more exposure.

Sonnenberg stressed that she and her troupe are really concentrating on making their residency productions "the best that we can do it, because it's such a great opportunity for us to be exposed to a wider audience."

So how is Moxie using its gift? With an old-fashioned murder mystery fundraiser, for starters.

"Murder Mystery Party" finishes its brief four-performance run this Saturday, and for $65, provides each patron with dinner and wine, a character to play and a mystery to be solved. The annual fundraiser is also the setting for Moxie to divulge its new season lineup.

But the principal show that will benefit from the La Jolla space with a rent-free extended run will be "Drink Me or The Strange Case of Alice Times Three," written by Mary Fengar Gail and co-directed by Sonnenberg and Thorn. The production is scheduled to run from Aug. 20 to Sept. 27.

"We wanted to do a production of a play that was really in the spirit of our mission and our name," Sonnenberg said.

Moxie's mission focuses on expanding the idea of what is feminine by finding underproduced works by primarily female playwrights, and creating more diverse and honest images of women in our culture through the medium of theater. The Moxie Web site points out that its name is literally defined as courage, gumption, perseverance and guts, and that each of its distinct productions will possess those qualities in some way.

"Drink Me" will not be the first production Sonnenberg has co-directed with Thorn, and she said that having the extra set of eyes and being able to collaborate -- as Moxie often does -- can really benefit a production. The artistic director explained that since co-directors "have to communicate really clearly" with each other, a positive "ripple effect" often spreads through the cast and crew.

"The real advantage (to co-directing) is how it creates a sense of collaboration with the entire company," she said, "... because everything has to be talked out, ideas have to be shared."

Sharing the responsibility also might allow for a little more free time, which Sonnenberg and other theater artists may appreciate in trying to sustain their artistic passion while living a well-rounded lifestyle and raising families.

"Two kids not only helps you prioritize, it helps you come home from work," said Sonnenberg.

What separates Moxie Theatre from some of its competition is its commitment to seeking out provocative plays that break down stereotypes of women; give female playwrights a chance to have their work produced in a conducive atmosphere; and hopefully affect everyone involved -- audience, cast and crew -- in a meaningful way.

"We haven't been scared to do plays that nobody else would do," Sonnenberg said. "The ultimate expression of a playwright's art is production -- women don't get a lot of productions.

"Being able to fill that void is one of the most rewarding things about working with Moxie."

As far as finding a permanent space, Moxie is planning to sublease Cygnet Theatre's Rolando venue on El Cajon Boulevard this fall -- but what will happen in 2010 with Moxie is yet to be determined.

Sonnenberg isn't looking too far ahead, though, and chooses to prioritize her focus on the upcoming Playhouse production. As far as the future goes, her motto is shrewdly simple: "One day at a time."

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