Best Local Theater Company

1. Very Little Theatre 2350 Hilyard Street. 541-344-7751. TheVLT.com.

2. Actors Cabaret of Eugene 996 Willamette Street. 541-683-4368. Actorscabaret.org.

3. The Shedd Institute 868 High Street. 541-434-7000. TheShedd.org.

You’re not getting older, VLT, you’re getting better. At the ripe old age of 89, Very Little Theatre is the venerable grandpa of local theater  — and one of the oldest community theaters in the United States.

Founded as part of the little theater movement, which advocated turning away from the cheesy commercial fare of the early 20th century, VLT got its name when a founder looked at the small number of faces at an early organizational meeting and said, “There are hundreds of little theatre groups up and down the country, but this is certainly going to be a very little one.” Or so the story goes. 

Perhaps fueled by a recent boom in local theater — Eugene has a delectable buffet of stage delights to choose from — VLT has upped its game lately. Yes, it does the warhorses, such as last spring’s Little Shop of Horrors. But it does them well.

It also takes on more challenging fare, as EW’s often-curmudgeonly critic Rick Levin noted in his review of this year’s Wonder of the World: “Let me begin by congratulating Very Little Theatre for daring to step afoul of the staid, risk-averse traditions that dominate so much arts programming in this town, and staging something relatively new and fresh…”

Yes, Oregon Contemporary Theatre may be more professional, Cottage Theatre frequently showcases whirlwind director Tony Rust and Actors Cabaret serves better food with its musicals. But community is the soul of art, and VLT will always have a place in our heart. — Bob Keefer