After a year in its new complex on Church Street, Mad Cow Theatre feels right at home.
"What we've learned is there are a lot of people right here at our doorstep who are excited about having the theater here," says executive director Mitzi Maxwell. "Church Street is a neighborhood."
The theater moved to the location last fall in a deal brokered with the city, which subsidizes the space in the 55 West development of apartments and businesses. Mad Cow's previous home was a few blocks away on Magnolia Avenue.
Those few blocks have made a world of difference, Maxwell says, with the theater's newfound visibility drawing larger audiences.
"It's just a whole bunch of good news," Maxwell says. Shows have been running at 92 percent capacity on average, a strong showing for theaters. Sold-out performances have become commonplace, with several extending their runs because of high demand.
The theater's wait-list, once rarely used, is getting a workout, says David Mink, director of audience development. Season subscriptions are on the rise, too.
"Right now, we are on track to match or surpass last year's number of subscribers," Mink says. That's important because although a new venue can attract curious patrons once or twice the first year, it's more difficult — and more rewarding for the theater — to have them return the following year.
When Mink asks audience members how many are newcomers, it's not uncommon to see half the theatergoers raise their hands, he says.
"In 2008, I knew everybody who walked through the door," Maxwell says. "That's not true anymore, and it's a wonderful thing."
Not only are there more theatergoers in the seats, their faces are more diverse, she says.
"Our audience is much more diverse across the board, in terms of age, gender, cultural background," Maxwell says. "That's because of our location."
The theater, which was founded in 1997, featured a diverse lineup of plays last season — classic drama such as "Death of a Salesman," contemporary works such as "Collected Stories" and musicals such as "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Dreamgirls."
William Elliott will spend the new season as a resident scenic designer, Maxwell says, as the company explores how to make the most of its largest theater, the Harriett. Other plans include a festival of science-themed plays and upgrades to lights, sound equipment and signage.
Even downtown's reputation for problematic parking hasn't slowed the theater down: "After a year, people have figured out where they like to park," Mink says. Two new restaurants are scheduled to open nearby, and the forthcoming Sunrail train will stop just a block away from the theater.
Says Maxwell: "We feel like we're in the middle of everything."
• What: The Sept. 27 performance of Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities" is preceded by Mad Cow's season-opening gala. It features complimentary wine and soft drinks, catering by Ceviche and a silent auction.
• Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando
• When: Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27
• Tickets: $85
• Call: 407-297-8788
• Online: madcowtheatre.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun