It's impossible to pinpoint the exact date or show, but at some point over the last five years, the Chance Theater became the premiere storefront theater in Orange County. There are other storefronts that do more adventurous work--like, the Monkey Wrench Collective, or do certain types of plays very well, such as the Maverick, or have a broader range of material, say Stages and the Hunger Artists.
But in terms of infrastructure, production values, constant infusion of new talent and just the professional feel of the company's Anaheim Hills Space, the Chance trumps them all.
Want proof? Eight years after launching in 1999, the Chance earned the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Polly Warfield Award for Excellence, in 2007. That kind of seemed like a honorable mention award for a decent company that hadn't yet made the major strides to get actual awards for productions from publications outside Orange County (the august OC Weekly and something like the OC Register had long praised the company in end-of-the-year awards).
That changed in 2009, when the company received six LADCC nominations, and six Ovation Awards, basically the Tony Awards for Southern California theater, for its revival of Hair.
The laurels keep coming: in October, the Chance received six nominations again from the Ovation Awards, five for The Who's Tommy, and one for Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter. (In February, the Chance will stage The Who's Tommy in the Orange County Performing Art Center's smallest space, Founders Hall).
While there is a division between large theaters (like South Coast Repertory, the Center Theater Group at the Mark Taper Forum, Geffen Playhouse, etc), and intimate theater categorys in the Ovation Awards, the Chance is ranked alongside stellar LA-based companies like the Antaeus Company, Fountain Theatre and the www.bostoncourt.com.
And in terms of individual honors, there is no separation, Oanh Nguyen, the Chance's Artistic Director, who received a best director nomination for The Who's Tommy, is in the same arena as professional directors, including someone whose name the OC Weekly hasn't typed in a lonnnng time, but we're ecstatic to do so know: Matt Walker, who helms the Troubadour Theatre Company, an outfit that used to do a show every year in OC but has been achingly absent for five years.
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But back to the Chance: Awards may be subjective--always--and, regrettably, sometimes political and not rigorously thought out. But the people who choose the nominees for both the Ovation Awards and the LADCC are journalists and theater practitioners who occupy that tiny portion of the body politic: They give a shit about theater.
So the Chance should be very proud of every shout-out hurled its way.
And here's one more: The same week the Ovation Awards were announced, the aforementioned Nguyen received his own personal node: Named Producing Associate for South Coast Repertory as part of the Theatre Communication's New Generations Program. SCR co-founder Martin Benson will mentor Nguyen and there's no more seasoned or personable a theater mentor in Southern California theater, so Nguyen will be closely working with one of the best.