Sara Marsh has started building an audience in her target demographic — 18- to-35-year-olds — by doing edgy, fraught works; by marketing through social media, and by creating buzz through unusual venue choices. “Speed-the-Plow,” Dark & Stormy’s second show — its first show was a staged reading — was extended by a week and put the Twin Cities theater scene on notice.
“The question we ask is what would make young people choose a theater experience over a concert,” said Marsh after a performance. “Is it the electricity you get from the stage? Well, if we put a show in a tight, intimate space, they can feel that energy.”
A New Brighton native, Marsh, 32, has been acting since age 10. She and some other middle-schoolers at the Breck School in Golden Valley put on a student-penned play about an idealistic community that lived in a doughnut.
“I remember the experience of writing it and being onstage and feeling that sense of community with the audience,” she said. “That’s one of the things I love about doing Dark & Stormy. We’re so close to the audience, the action; you’re very aware of everything.”
She went professional, with agent representation, at 14. After high school, Marsh enrolled at the University of Minnesota but left after a year for work. She was cast as one of the leads, alongside Mena Suvari and James Marsden, in Francine McDougall’s 2001 film “Sugar and Spice.” That feature, about cheerleaders, copulation and crime, was shot in Minneapolis in 1999.
Marsh moved to Los Angeles in 2000, where she rode the Hollywood roller coaster. She was cast in a TV remake of “Bonanza” that never got off the ground.
She returned to Minnesota and finished her degree (in medieval European history) in 2006, even as she has kept a foot in the film world.
“Stars who used to do blockbuster films are doing TV, while TV stars are doing theater,” she said. “When I was out there, I realized that I’d rather be doing something I’m really passionate about, which is theater. I wanted to come back to what first jazzed me in a place where theater is taken very seriously and is not just a showcase for actors waiting for something in film or TV.”
She supplements her theater income by doing voice-overs. And she acts whenever and wherever she can. Marsh played the white girlfriend of a black drug dealer in “A Behanding in Spokane” last fall at Gremlin Theater. Like her turn in “Speed-the-Plow,” her performance was a deft navigation of innocence and mystery.
Marsh is three years shy of the cutoff for the demographic she hopes her company will attract. What happens then?
“We will still need to find and develop this audience to help sustain the art form,” she said. “We welcome everyone.”