Hidden away in the downtown area lies a small community theater that has successfully fused traditional theater with innovation, creating an experience like no other in Orange County.
Founded by Fullerton College alumnus Brian Newell and current theater department professor Jim Book, The Maverick Theater has given audiences an immersive and interactive experience for many years.
Originally established in the open-air environment of The Block at Orange, Newell and Book moved the theater to where it currently stands in Downtown Fullerton.
“At the time Downtown Fullerton was being revived. Lots of places had just opened in the last couple of years and I saw it as being a hub of Orange County so I thought a good fit might be adding a community theater in the mix,” Newell said.
The small theater has been the home for many shows like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and their annual showing of Night of the Living Dead.
“They were the first theatre locally to embrace film and video as part of the performance, spending as much time on the videos as they do on rehearsal if not more,” said Fullerton College theater professor William Mittler.
A native of Fullerton, Newell’s ability to create productions to entertain an audience stems from his background in film, graphic design, photography, and love for technology.
“I try to look outside of the traditional staging of entertainment, but I still do plenty of traditional theater. What really gets me excited is doing things on stage that you don’t expect to see on a stage,” Newell said.
From the outside, the theater building looks like a warehouse but upon first walking into the theater, the audience is immediately transported to another time period with the art deco design of the stage and interior. The main stage of the theater is small, but Newell has been able to create plays that have broken the fourth wall and bring the actors within the audience, creating a full immersion of his storytelling.
Most recently, the theater was able to host their annual Night of the Living Dead production but altered it in a way where the audience was fully immersed but also followed social distancing guidelines.
“Because the Maverick has focused on presenting entertaining productions, with spectacle and effects some may have not taken them as seriously, however, they were one of the more innovative companies in LA/Orange County,” Mittler said.
Not only does the success of each play rely on the innovation and direction of Newell, but the actors and stage crew also play an important role in each show.
“What I try to do with all my performers is create an environment that’s nurturing, friendly and thankful because we don’t pay our performers, they all do it for the passion,” Newell said. “I’m always making sure that the environment is there that makes them feel comfortable and creative because they’re committing their time to it.”
In the portrayal of Newell’s original take on King Kong, the actors interact with a screen that sets the scene. Along with a secondary miniature set to portray Kong as a giant ape, the theater’s way of “thinking outside of the box” has managed to pay off.
Due to the pandemic, the theater, along with many performing arts venues in the country, has remained closed since the initial shut down in March.
“We’ve all been locked up too long and have experienced so much entertainment on screens that just to get out and see theater and have live performances with entertainers is going to very desirable, so I’d like to predict that there’s going to be a huge surge after the pandemic,” Newell said.
For more information on The Maverick Theater and future plans, visit their website at mavericktheater.com