Before Garcia can go too far, Steve Forth interrupts him. Forth is a director and actor but also the founder of the Shard Live Performance Collective, a fledgling fringe company that produced its first show last spring. Forth seems to understand that saying too much to a reporter about other theaters in town may not be the most politically correct thing to do. He wraps up Eddie's unstructured rant with a too-pat explanation: "It's hard to pour your heart and soul into [something] and not get anything back." Garcia and Forth epitomize the battle to make it on the fringes of the Richmond theater scene where rewards are minimal, disappointments prevalent. Says Forth, "It's hard getting started. It feels like we're a bunch of people in limbo, fighting the good fight." Forth, 25, is slender but muscular with a long brown pony tail and eyes that seem to glow with the intensity of his enthusiasm. After acting gigs with Theatre IV and Encore! Theatre Company, Forth decided to start his own company. In addition to housing nine people, the Compound serves as headquarters for Shard. The table, filing cabinet and copying machine that make up Shard's office equipment are huddled into a corner of the dining room. "I want to do shows that make people think. I'll do whatever it takes to do [that] kind of theater," says Forth. "I'll sacrifice a little comfort now to get where I want to go." Forth's statement might as well be the motto of all the residents of the Compound. For whatever reason, they have decided that living in such a confined space is almost a prerequisite of a successful artistic life. "We live together, we work together, we go out together, we do everything together," says Forth. "It doesn't feel claustrophobic at all, we really get a lot from each other." If there is a "dad" in this theatrical family, it is Forth. He secured the Monument Avenue apartment early in 1999 and it quickly became a sanctuary for Forth's theater friends who were new to the city. "I have trouble saying no to people," he says. In addition to the people living there, a half-dozen other friends also working in Richmond theater regularly hang out at the Compound. Forth includes his roommates as an integral part of his plans for the future: "I would love to grow the company so that I could provide steady jobs for everyone here."[image-1]Photo by Scott ElmquistSteve Forth runs the Shard Live Performance Collective out of the apartment dining room. The director can envision a role for all of his roommates in the future of his company.
The apartment door flies open and the relative calm is shattered. The roommates from the "The Velveteen Rabbit" tour are returning from a trip to North Carolina. They're all wired from several hours on the road. It is suddenly clear how easily chaos can overcome the apartment. In the living room, three different conversations are going on simultaneously, and the noise level triples. Bane falls into a chair and immediately bums a cigarette from Condrey. The two women share a room. Bane, who had to get up at 5 a.m., tells Condrey: "I was trying not to bother you this morning and kept the light out. I was looking for plain white socks and look." She pulls up the cuffs of her jeans to display socks of a light but distinct shade of purple. Meade complains about the clothes that are left in the washing machine: "Y'all knew we were coming home after two weeks on the road with piles of stinking laundry." Forth shoots back, "You people come home and expect us to jump?" The back-and-forth is in fun, but Forth gets up to check his clothes just the same. Conflict is inevitable but most of the Compound's residents try to be considerate of one another. "We have our domestic squabbles," says Condrey. "But mostly we get along." A perpetual lack of toilet paper is one sore spot. "People will sneak into your bathroom and take the last roll," complains Condrey. "So I keep it in my car. I'm not going to bring it in here and have it disappear." Garcia has an answer for the problem. "I don't worry about it. I just don't go," he says. "I hold it until I go to work." Bryson comments, "At least everyone's good about cleaning. Well, everyone but Eddie." "Hey, all my dishes are disposable," Garcia shoots back. "Eddie gets pegged as the scapegoat because he comes up with the worst excuses," says Bane. When they are all together, what becomes obvious is the respect these roommates have for each other and the camaraderie they share. "Any other mix of nine people wouldn't work," says Eric Green, who is playing Eeyore in Theatre IV's "The House at Pooh Corner." As the roommates hang out in their living room, they pass around cigarettes and beers and relate anecdotes from the road. Condrey pulls out pictures from last summer and everybody looks them over. Laughter and hugs are frequent. "We are all stuh-ruh-guh-ling," says Bane, drawing out each syllable. "We're all in a tough spot and we're all trying to make it. We understand that about each other." Still, the talk about some of the roommates moving out is intensifying. "I've overheard conversations," says Forth. "I'll walk into a room and people get quiet. They say, 'Steve, we're sorry' and I'm like, 'no problem, you told me last month you were thinking about moving out.' Anyway, I bought two rolls of toilet paper and a sponge for the sink and everyone was happy." "Eddie, Eric, Tiffany, Kevin, Katie, Brix, Steve, and Steve can't come to the phone right now, oh, yeah, and Scott, so leave us a message. On the flip side." The Compound answering machine.[image-2]Photo by Scott Elmquist"We all just want to live and eat and be happy," says Katie Bane. "These people will put up with anything because they love their art," says a friend. "They love what they do and being crammed together is a small price to pay."
It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the apartment is bursting with activity. Those who haven't left to spend the holiday with their families are bustling around the cramped kitchen. Spirits are high. "Food is a happy occasion around here, everybody comes together," says Bryson. "Try talking about bills and everyone's like, 'I'll talk to you later.'" The Compound houses an amazing melting pot of people. There are five men and three women. Among the residents are one African-American, one Hispanic, and one homosexual. Their socio-economic backgrounds are all over the map. Rather than being a cause for tension, the mix has made for interpersonal breakthroughs. "Kevin [Edwards] and I were in the kitchen one night," recounts Green, 27. "He looked at me and was like, 'I had no idea that you were gay.'" Green has a laid-back, positive attitude that is infectious. He continues, "Kevin said that if he had known that I was gay before I moved in, he would have been uncomfortable with it. But now that he's lived with me, it has made him more open to homosexuality, made him more aware and a lot more receptive. ... That meant so much to me. I mean, if you can't live with people without learning from them, why live with them?" As people settle down to start eating, Wichmann stands and delivers a Thanksgiving tribute to his roommates. "We all share a unique experience one akin to being at Woodstock for a loooong fucking time." Each resident gets some kind words before Wichmann's finale, a quote from Sinatra: "You've gotta love livin' baby 'cause dyin' is a pain in the ass." Hugs and kisses are offered all around. Almost as soon as the gathering comes together, it disperses. Wichmann has a show, Garcia leaves for his job at Awful Arthur's. Meade and Edwards retreat to their room. Later, Green describes the flow of people in the apartment, "It's like a heartbeat. There's a rhythm to it. People flow in and then people flow out." [image-3]Photo by Scott ElmquistLong hours are spent at the apartment, just hanging out. When they are all together, what becomes obvious is the respect these roommates have for each other and the camaraderie they share.
It happened literally overnight: in mid-December, the three women of the Compound and Edwards moved to another apartment less than two blocks down on Monument. "I came home from my tour and people were moving out," recalls Green. "We got most of their stuff out in one night." While all the Compound's residents saw the move as inevitable, there is some melancholy over the change. "I miss them," says Bryson. "I thought it was fun, all together. But this will probably make everyone a lot happier." Condrey relishes the change and expects the move to strengthen the relationships. "I know I'll go back and hang out at [the Compound]. And I'll be much happier being there and walking through someone else's bedroom to get to the bathroom." Green sees the move into the new apartment as an expansion, not a break-up. "Now it's like we have a courtyard, a 'Compound B.' We're still very much like a large family." Indeed, the move into different apartments hasn't lessened the interaction between the Compound's residents. They still count on each other for both professional and personal support. Thanks to some lobbying from Wichmann, Bane will stage manage the next show at the Barksdale. Wichmann's next gig will be a starring role in Forth's production of "Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop," set to open in February. Forth also helped Meade score a temporary job as a receptionist. Garcia and Edwards are both mulling over moves to California. "Honestly, Richmond hasn't had a lot of companies doing the work I'd like to do," says Edwards. "I love children's theater but, if I'm going to do main stage work, I've got to go to New York or California." Bryson is unsure of his next move. "I think we all have inner thoughts of wanting to be rich and famous. But in this business you need a little reliability. For me, it's these friends of mine." "This is one of the coolest times of my life," says Wichmann. "I'm surrounded by vitality, life, crackling energy and enthusiasm. I have a place to call home. But most of all, I have friends." Jump to Part 1, 2,