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Shifting focus Varied styles set company apart in theater scene

The members of Kaleidoscope Theatre Productions have been together long enough to finish one another's sentences. But their name doesn't roll so easily off theatergoers' tongues.

"We've been here for five years," said Keith Wharton, the company's production director and co-star of its latest show, Richard Dresser's "Rounding Third."

"But we're just getting started," added Artistic Director Beth Gerardi.

The close-knit and somewhat under-the-radar company defines its mission, appropriately enough, as a kaleidoscopic and all-embracing approach to a wide range of theater styles. If it sounds vague, well, that's kind of the point.

"One of the reasons that we chose the name Kaleidoscope is that it offers many opportunities to change our focus," Wharton said.

In a community brimming with theater companies -- both professional and community-based -- the Kaleidoscopers were well aware of the crowded field they entered five seasons ago, when they mounted their first play, Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged]."

Like many other small companies, they don't find the field of Buffalo theaters crowded as much as artistically thriving, a friendly atmosphere they say can only help their ambitious goals in building an audience. They cite the successes of companies such as Road Less Traveled Productions and others as reason to rejoice and try hard to fill a niche in the community that other theaters haven't.

Just what that niche is remains murky -- thus the kaleidoscopic nature of the group. But one thing that sets the theater firmly apart from its counterparts are its comparatively bargain-basement ticket prices: $12 for adults, $8 for students, and buy one, get one half off deals for those on the mailing list. That makes a night at Kaleidoscope often cheaper than a night at the movies, the goal being to draw crowds back to the stage for the sort of unique thrill only live theater can provide. Not to mention the free food the company offers at opening night receptions.

"Rounding Third," a light, summertime play that stars Kaleidoscope Executive Director Matthew Slazak and Wharton as two Little League baseball coaches, embodies a typical Kaleidoscope production. Director Gerardi triples as costume and set designer, and the group's home at Canisius College's Marie Maday Theatre affords them a two-week window for the show's run. Each member of the company has a demanding day job, so when productions come around, exhaustion creeps in.

But the Kaleidoscope team isn't bothered.

"To get up in the morning and go to work, to know that you're going to go to the theater later," Wharton said, "I can't even describe the feeling. Is it fun to have an audience? Well yeah, but that's not really the reason we do it. We just have to do it because we want to do it, we need to do it, we're passionate about it."

But it helps, Slazak added, if you're an insomniac.

"We're firm believers that the rising tide raises all ships," Slazak said, commenting on a recent resurgence in Buffalo pride in the theater community and elsewhere. "There's a new spirit, I think, that's really appearing throughout the city, and I'd like to think that we're some sort of small part of that."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW

WHAT: "Rounding Third"

WHEN: Opens at 7:30 tonight and runs through June 23

WHERE: Marie Maday Theatre at Canisius College, 2001 Main St.

TICKETS: $12 adults, $8 students and seniors

INFO: 629-TKIT or www.kaleidoscopetheatreproductions.com

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