Suzanne Curtis, The Water Series

Isn't Maryville kind of small to support a theater?

In theater, there's no such thing as starting too small—you just have to start. What's great is that every major regional theater in America, with a few exceptions, began as a tiny, tiny operation in the middle of nowhere. It gives me hope because it has worked before. The Alabama and Oregon Shakespeare Festivals literally started in high school gyms in the middle of a field.

You chose Betrayal (an experimental piece told in reverse) by Harold Pinter, as your first work. Why not, say, Barefoot in the Park or something else by Neil Simon?

When I choose a play, I have to love the material and care about it. It usually comes through when the director is not into the script. And the material has to somehow be relevant to the audience's lives. Is the play holding up a mirror to the community in some way? I'm interested in entertaining the audience, but also in presenting plays that pose questions, not provide answers.

You've been back in the area about a year now after living several years in Los Angeles, including work as an equity actor and as a stand-up comic at the LA Comedy Connection. Could the move give you material for a new routine?

You know what's funny? Even though L.A. is the Big City, with a lot going on and a lot of opportunity, it's got a whole bunch of strip malls. So I didn't really need to re-assimilate to Knoxville. I just go sit in my car in a strip mall parking lot.

Are you hoping to find untapped, overlooked talent?

Sure. Part of my goal is to eventually have a cohesive group of people who have a unique way of working together and developing materials. But with our inaugural production it will be a pretty traditional process.

If you achieve your bigger goal, will the same company members perform in all the productions?

No. I really believe you can have a strong group of artists who work and function as a unit and still allow eager participants who are willing to learn to take part. When you go into a community where there's not a big theater already in place, you have to be willing to work with those who are just excited and can give a good audition.

Don't they need acting talent, too?

The great, amazing performances are a combination of talent and skill. But you can tell a story well with learned, developed skill alone.

Betrayal will be performed at Southland Books (801 East Broadway, Maryville) on April 17 -19, 24-26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 622-0539 for info.