By Lauren Takores
WALLINGFORD — There’s a lot going on at the Square Foot Theatre, which opened a musical theater tavern next door earlier this year.
The all-ages Stage Left Lounge features weekly karaoke and open mic nights, drag queen brunches, and has rentals booked through a year from now.
“We’re no longer the best kept secret in town,” said Jared Andrew Brown, the theater’s executive director.
Brown and his husband, Patrick Laffin, co-founded the theater at 950 Yale Ave. nearly 13 years ago, and it’s is still in full swing.
A production of “Tarzan,” a musical adaptation of the Disney film, opens Thursday. It’s the theater’s season 12 closer and 80th show.
“It’s a very physical show,” Laffin said. “The set is climbable, so they’re climbing everywhere. They’re in the house, they’re up and above and around.”
On Wednesday evening, the group performed the final dress rehearsal as a give-back night for the theater’s sponsor, the Jamie Hulley Arts Foundation.
Cast members said they were excited to finally perform for an audience.
“We’ve been rehearsing since the middle of June,” said Amelia Nemeth, 33, who plays Kala, Tarzan’s gorilla mom. “There’s a lot of really funny jokes in scenes in this show that we haven’t had any laughs to, so it will be really cool to see how they respond to it.”
Nemeth got involved with the show through the tavern, initially invited to check out the space by Kaity Marzik, 21, who plays Jane.
“The first night I came here was musical theater karaoke night,” Nemeth said, where she was encouraged to audition for “Tarzan.”
“And now here I am,” she said.
The theater took over the former Yale Billiards location next door when the sports bar relocated last year.
After months of interior renovations, the theater group created a family-friendly, bring-your-own-food space that has a separate 21-and-older bar area.
The entire space is 7,500 square feet, Brown said. The theater is 3,000 square feet and the tavern added 4,500 square feet.
“I know that we took a big risk,” Brown said, “but with the addition of the full bar, we’ve secured the longevity of our nonprofit theater.”
The tavern opened in April. Hours vary daily Tuesday to Sunday. Closing times are based on attendance.
The theater is cabaret-style and patrons are encouraged to bring their own food to shows.
“It gives people the opportunity to not rush in at 6 o’clock,” he said. “You can have your dinner here (in the tavern) and your dessert in there.”
The tavern also houses its own events. Brunch hosted by drag queens is slated to re-start in September after a successful run in the spring.
Currently, the tavern hosts karaoke nights on Tuesdays and open mic nights with host Sarah Golley on Wednesdays.
Golley, who’s performed in several shows at the theater herself, said Thursday that open mic was her way of bringing other types of art into the tavern space.
“They’re a new venue, trying to get different types of entertainment and art into the space,” she said. “They have the theater market down but they’re trying to expand a little bit.”
Open mic nights, which are open to all ages, usually draws a crowd of around 10 people.
“We’ve been getting someone new every single week,” she said, “whether they come every week or not. Eventually I want everyone to come all the time.”
Performances range from acoustic guitar and pianists to a 10-year-old comedian.
She’s also hoping the upcoming audition season will draw actors practicing monologues.
A night of stand-up with three nationally performing comedians is scheduled for 8 p.m. Aug. 16 and 17, featuring headliner Jess Miller, feature performer Angela Nacca and host Cindy-Ann Jane.
Brown said Nacca is a relative of a long-time theater cast member.
“She found out that we were in the middle of this expansion and said, ‘a comedy show that I do would be perfect for this venue,’” he said.
Tickets are $30 for general admission, $40 for VIP.
The Square Foot Theatre shows slated to be produced next season are “13: The Musical” in September, “The Rocky Horror Show” in October, “Newsies” in December, “In the Heights” in January 2020, “Pippin” in February, “Green Day’s American Idiot” in April-May, “Shrek Jr.” in June and “Footloose” in August.
Subscription packages are on sale now. Individual ticket sales begin next week.