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Theater co-founder brings thoughtful works to Las Vegas Valley — VIDEO

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

Like a well-written play, the story of Ann-Marie Pereth’s career in theater begins unexpectedly, incorporates a few twists and turns, and moves toward a conclusion that’s both satisfying and believable.

Except, of course, that the play is far from over for Pereth, a founder and artistic director of A Public Fit Theatre Company, which will present “The Elephant Man” — directed by Pereth and company co-founder Joseph D. Kucan — May 3-26 at The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway.

Pereth was born in Los Angeles and moved to Las Vegas when she was 11 months old. While she didn’t have theatrical aspirations as a kid, Pereth adds with a laugh that, “I was a high-maintenance kid, I would say. I needed a lot of attention.”

She had a best friend who loved theater and wanted to join the Rainbow Company, “and I loved him, so we did theater together,” Pereth says. “I started doing theater when I was 10.”

Pereth performed with the Rainbow Company until she was 16, then “took a break from it in high school. But, then, as soon as I got out of high school, I got right back into it.”

She had entered UNLV as a psychology major. She signed up for a theater class, and “from that point was cursed, cursed with the theater bug.”

Pereth earned a bachelor’s degree in theater performance from UNLV in 1994. By then, she had discovered a desire to focus on serious, thoughtful plays and to direct.

“I was really frustrated in college, because I’m also a singer and a dancer and I was getting cast for all of the musicals. I wanted to be cast into straight plays. So I went to the chairman of the department, sobbing, ‘I just wanna be in straight plays.’ So he put me in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ I played Bianca and had a good experience. Then I took a directing class, and I loved being on the other side.”

After working for three years in children’s theater in New York City, Pereth returned to UNLV and earned a master of fine arts degree in theater direction in 2013. That year, she and Kucan — also her partner in life — co-founded A Public Fit Theatre Company.

“So now I’m doing the type of theater I really like, really thought-provoking plays that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around.”

She laughs. “I need the seven weeks of rehearsal to know what’s going on.”

And now that she can direct all the serious plays she’d like, “I’m dying to do a musical. Not to direct one, but I secretly want to sneak off and be in the chorus.”

Review-Journal: What did you enjoy about theater as a kid?

Ann-Marie Pereth: It was about being part of a production … the feeling of ensemble and connection and having a family and working really hard on something for, like, six weeks and seeing the manifestation of that. I remember having those feelings, and the friends I have from that period are still my closest friends.

A Public Fit began with readings at somebody’s home?

At Ken and Jenny Kucan’s house. They’re retired schoolteachers and we made soup (laughs). And we had great discussions. The discussions were really lively, and we decided to do it again, and instead of there being 10 people, there were 15 and it escalated, and by the end it was like 50 people in the house. People just kept showing up, like, “Oh, I hear you’re going to read a play, and you’re going to have the actors talk about it,” and we were like, “Yeah, and we have soup!”

Did you expect to start a theater company?

No, I never imagined this would happen. What I like about having my own company with Joe is there’s ownership and responsibility, and depending on how hard you work, you can get a really good result. … I get to choose the type of material I want to create and I can succeed and fail, and the failures are on my own terms and the successes are also on my own terms. That’s pretty empowering.

Why is theater important?

Now, more than ever, theater teaches us to be empathetic and connect with the human experience. Unlike film and TV, where there’s a screen, you can touch those people. You can have conversation after the show. When you’re in that theater with 70, 80, 100, 500, 1,000 people, you’re all this living, breathing entity watching that same experience, and as a community you are giving back to the actors onstage, so there’s this shared experience.

Do you watch audiences watch shows you direct?

I usually watch almost every show. I love to see the shift every night, and if (I’m not there), I’ll be, like, “What happened?” He’s (Kucan) like, “Yeah, they laughed at a certain time, and this audience member did this, and everyone gasped,” and I’m like, “(Expletive), I missed it!”

Does being a director make it harder for you to be an audience member?

Absolutely. When we go to see other productions around town, I have to think, “OK, take the ride,” because I have too many filters that I see a production through.

Does being a director affect your acting?

I haven’t acted since, like, 2010. Oh, yeah, I’ve told Joe, “You’ll never direct me.” I can’t take the constructive criticism (laughs). I think my talent is really as a director, not an actor. If I was more talented, I think I could handle it better.

Any plays on your directorial wish list?

I’d love to do “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl. Unfortunately, I feel that play has been done by so many theater companies in town, I’d have to find a good reason to do it. But it’s a beautiful play.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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