William Shakespeare has been the English-speaking world’s most famous playwright for four centuries. So it seems a little odd for a Shakespeare-dedicated theater troupe to talk about slowly building an audience.
‘‘We haven’t really broken through,’’ conceded Jim Good, board president of Mesa-based Southwest Shakespeare Company. ‘‘But our third act hasn’t been written. We’ll be around forever.’’
On Thursday, Southwest Shakespeare will kick off its 10th season.
The buzz for 2003-04 is mostly good, not just because of the strong showing Southwest Shakespeare usually makes with theater critics but also thanks to a 25 percent increase in the number of season ticket sales over last year and the growing excitement over the troupe’s future host, Mesa’s new performing arts center.
Though it’s not scheduled to open until 2005, the $95 million Mesa Performing Arts Center already has given the city’s culture a muchneeded shot in the arm. The ‘‘Mesa stigma,’’ as Good calls it, is dying a slow but steady death.
Good, who has held his post since 1999, says Southwest Shakespeare’s future 550-seat performance space ‘‘will bring the people, will mean sellouts for us. This season there are 665 season-ticket holders, up from a dismal 503 last year.
‘‘We’d like to get 1,000 season subscribers, maybe 1,200 as a base,’’ he said. ‘‘Then there will be nothing we can’t do.’’
But Southwest Shakespeare’s goals reach beyond a greater number of subscribers. Good says that what he and others involved in the company would like to see is the development of a major Shakespeare festival, such as those in Ashland, Ore., Toronto, San Diego and Cedar City, Utah.
And ‘‘by the time our 20th season rolls around, we’d like to have a full-time staff’’ — instead of one made up entirely of volunteers — ‘‘and plays in repertory,’’ Good said.
The company also would like to have more freedom to branch out a bit from an all-Shakespeare, all-the-time format. Even though artistic director Jared Sakren has staged other plays for Southwest Shakespeare in the past, such as last season’s ‘‘Our Town,’’ they have tanked at the box office.
‘‘With so many companies competing for the theater dollar, people want to see the Southwest Shakespeare Company do Shakespeare,’’ Good said. ‘‘We did ‘Our Town,’ and (ticket buyers) told us in a big way, ‘Don’t do that to us again.’
‘‘What sells best are the comedies,’’ he continued. ‘‘‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a real crowd-pleaser, a real gas. ‘Hamlet’ does well, and so does ‘Macbeth.’’’
No matter how well it does, though, no play enters the rotation more than once every five years. And with 37 plays from which to choose, Sakren could stage three per year for 12 years without running out of material.
Each season, Southwest Shakespeare typically puts on one heavy drama, one historical play and one comedy. As with ‘‘The Taming of the Shrew’’ this year, the company’s middle production is always a big-name play taught in area high schools so that students might be drawn to the theater.
‘‘We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Valley theater,’’ Good said. ‘‘Absolutely not. Our plan is to become a theater destination. We are still trying to figure out what is the magic button — marketing, maybe? — that will get us in that groove. But I know we’ll get there.’’
Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 16-18: ‘‘Richard III’’ (Mesa Amphitheatre) Jan. 15-31: ‘‘The Taming of the Shrew’’ (Mesa’s Westwood High School)
April 15-24: ‘‘As You Like It’’ (Mesa Amphitheatre)
What: ‘‘Richard III,’’ presented by Southwest Shakespeare Company
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 16-18
Where: Mesa Amphitheatre, 251 N. Center Street Cost: $10 to $20. Information: (480) 990-4404 or www.swshakespeare.com