Theater is essential for its immediate nature, and for its ability to exist suddenly and without warning by people left out of pop-cultural conversations. For a few of my friends, the theater is something different, a fun but limited part of their media diet; for the rest, the theater is that place where they do Hamlet over and over again, so why bother?
The New Hazlett Theater’s CSA (Community Supported Art) program, in many ways, is a rebuttal to that interpretation of the form. Their upcoming season, which begins on October 26th, contains the 5 most disparate shows I’ve seen performed at a single theater. All of them play with expectation, and all of them feature stories you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It is, in other words, a very active space.
“The thing I most enjoy about this program is that it isn’t static. We don’t believe that it can be,” says Bill Rodgers, CSA’s Director of Programming. “The CSA can give artists a launch pad of sorts. It can provide an opportunity for seasoned individuals to experiment.”
In other words, this is a program in which fresh voices are given an opportunity and a budget to bring their work to life, and artists with known-work under their belts are able to take risks and push boundaries. It’s a breeding ground for new thoughts.
The program’s first show, Between Us and Grace (October 27th), explores a space familiar to most all creative hopefuls: the open mic. Starring show writer Clare Drobot alongside local singer-songwriter Nathan Zoob, the play follows Stella, a 17 year-old songwriter who is increasingly in contrast with her religious hometown upbringing. It’s a coming of age story in which music intersects with narrative, though Drobot is quick to point out that the play not a musical: “I promise, no jazz hands,” she asserts in one promotional video.
Drobot’s narrative of redefining faith, while personal, will depict a struggle most anyone can relate to. Between Us and Grace will be directed by Anya Martin and will be performed on October 26th.
CSA’s second show, the concert/visual-theater mashup, Presence, is more indicative of the program’s playful relationship with convention. Performed and created by saxophonist John Petrucelli, Presence will utilize a jazz quintet, a string quartet, electronic music and a lighting director to create a musically and thematically complex space to exist within.
The music is being composed alongside the show’s visuals, and is a unique amalgam of both influence and musical philosophy. “[The show will] merge natural sounds, urban acoustic sounds and voices,” said Petrucelli.
The roots of the show are on some fundamental levels at odds, and Petrucelli was quick to point out in conversation that bridging the strict nature of classical composition versus the more organic form favored by jazz musicians is in itself a difficult task. However, this fundamental conflict has opened up Petrucelli’s creative palate to some new spaces.
When asked what a jazz newbie could get out of a performance like this versus a seasoned veteran, Petrucelli’s answer was clear: the chance to exist in a “totally immersive space.” Presence will be performed on December 7th.
Apart From Me, CSA’s third show, is another heavily experimental piece striving to immerse and provoke its audience to reflect. Created and performed by H. Gene Thompson, Arvid Tomayko and Ru Emmons, the show will use physical performance, wearable sculptures and a dynamic soundscape to explore the rift between the individual versus society versus the self. The group’s outfits will activate various parts of the environment as they perform, which in turn will create sounds and additional visuals.
The show won’t be a straightforward dance piece that follows a clear narrative, but will instead use abstractions to explore the way in which our social spaces have themselves become fairly abstract. Cell phone use, for example, is probably our most popularly discussed social moray. We’ve all heard the phrase “you’re always on your damn phone” from an uncle or two, or a hundred, and even those of us who religiously spend the day staring at a screen generally have some scruples about social media obsession. But what’s to be done about it? Tomayko had an answer:
“We’re using iPhone sensor technology to connect people in a creative space with each other, rather than with their phones.” Apart From Me will be performed February 8th.
CSA’s fourth show, Büer’s Kiss, written and created by local cartoonist Carl Antonowicz, is a dynamic live production of medieval-set graphic novel storytelling. More than a live reading, the show is slated to feature multiple voice actors, live foley effects and projections of its panels. The show follows a woman named Felicia who contracts a fictional disease similar to leprosy and is forced to live with other sufferers in a secluded island away from a society that reviles her. It is the culmination of years of medieval research on Antonowicz’s part, who draws his fable in a strikingly dark pop-art style. Büer’s Kiss will be performed April 12th.
Escape Velocity, the final show of the season by Double Blind Productions, features a dynamic, almost ‘choose your own adventure’-style narrative in which tarot cards drawn by audience participants will actively shape the outcome of the plot. The show will follow a circus, and will deal with themes of fate vs. choice. It will be performed on May 31st.
Audiences craving the bold and unique in their storytelling are bound to find New Hazlett’s Community Supported Art season to challenge their perception of theater, and open their eyes to some new voices who will shape the stage for years to come.
For tickets and more information, check out the New Hazlett’s website here.