BWW Features: OUT LOUD Takes to the Road in 'Massive' Undertaking
"Too much theatre." It's a phrase getting whispered around the Rhode Island theatre scene lately. It can be heard backstage when performances are lightly attended, or in bars post-performance while actors and their buddies lament the fact that they are unavailable to go see other shows. There has been a proliferation of smaller companies within the last few years; that fact cannot be argued. Anecdotally, no fewer than 8 shows are debuting last week or this: "Sweet Charity," "Veronica Meadows," "Hurly Burly," "Cloud 9," "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," "Doctor Cerberus," "Newcastle," and "The Most Massive Woman Wins," the newest production from OUT LOUD Theatre. Each of these plays, with a few exceptions, will have to court an audience outside of small or nonexistent subscriber bases and with only so much time and money to give, and so each needs a strategy to thrive. And in the case of OUT LOUD, they've got one.
OUT LOUD's Kira Hawkridge is young for an artistic director - younger even than the slew of still comparatively young AD's elsewhere in the state. Separating her further from those other groups, like it or not, is her gender. There are very few female AD's in this market, but Hawkridge isn't one to let age or gender slow her down -- or box her in. She's been producing steadily for a few years, but this year is her company's coming out party. OUT LOUD followed a production of Kenneth Lonergan's "This is Our Youth," last fall, with a nuanced, brave production of Sam Shepard's "Cowboy Mouth" this winter. Now, she's taking the company in a different direction: namely, on the road.
"We're embracing our nomadic status," says Hawkridge of the fact that her new production of Madeleine George's "The Most Massive Woman Wins" will be performed around the state in no fewer than 6 venues, "The freedom outweighs the difficulty." It begins in the Mathewson Street Theatre inside the United Methodist Church on Mathewson Street in Providence, April 10th-12th. The production will then embark on what OUT LOUD is calling "The Tour for Social Change," which will take them to Universities and High Schools around the state, as well as a one-show stint back at Mathewson as part of the "This is Free Providence" festival, and finally a one-weekend sit-down at the Contemporary Theatre Company in South Kingstown.
The tour (and its free admission price) is made possible by a grant from The Rhode Island Foundation. Hawkridge hopes it can continue for as long as they can find venues. "It's very portable," says Hawkridge, "It's four chairs and that's it. We can do it pretty much anywhere." The tour, and the festival it centers around, is about empowering women and socially-minded people everywhere. OUT LOUD is reinforcing this socially active mindset by augmenting the production with several supporting initiatives, including the "Join the Conversation" initiative and an exhibit of portraiture by Boston-based photographer Justine M. Johnson.
The "Join the Conversation" initiative features an online blog, a discussion group, and a talk back series. The talkbacks are headlined by Olivia Lane, a New York-based nutritionist and health coach, Jen Silbert, founder of Learning401, and Patricia Hawkridge, Kira's mother and the Artistic Director of La Voce.
Johnson's photography exhibit, meanwhile, will feature in-performance portraits of the cast of "Massive," specifically focusing on "parts of their bodies that empowered them and parts of their bodies that made them feel insecure," according to OUT LOUD's website. In this way, Hawkridge hopes to invigorate a conversation about body image.
As for the production itself, it's a physical, movement-based show that is constructed from lengthy monologues and scene work. In short, it's right up OUT LOUD's alley. They've quietly built a brand around strong character work, supported by deeply interesting, if unnerving, movement work. "Massive" should fit right in.
It should also feel right at home within the "This is Free Providence" Festival May 2nd-4th, where it will be joined by productions from Providence's The Wilbury Group, as well as the Tenderloin Opera Company. In fact, it was Tenderloin's Artistic Director Erik Ehn, along with HeadsUP Inc. Executive Director Karen Gager who first brought Hawkridge into the fold. Hawkridge is excited to be a part of the festival, and to bring the show's message to a live audience. "It's my personal belief that active dialogue can bring active change, at the community level but also globally," says Hawkridge, "We want to empower women to feel beautiful at any size."
Following the festival, OUT LOUD has more exciting partnerships coming up. In June, they'll be performing "Crave" by Sarah Kane, partnering up with URI Providence, and this fall they'll be the second company (after Burbage Theatre Company, this spring) to be sponsored by Epic Theatre Company, at that company's two spaces at the Artists' Exchange in Cranston. "I'm really looking forward to doing shows in the smaller space (at 50 Rolfe Square)" says Hawkridge of the impending Epic Sponsorship, "I believe that physical proximity equals emotional proximity."
How a tour that goes weeks in between gigs will fare remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: with productions sitting down in Providence, South Kingstown, and Cranston, OUT LOUD theatre is about to make a big splash all around the state in the coming months.
"The Most Massive Woman Wins" runs April 10th-12th and May 4th the Mathewson Street Theatre, and May 9th and 10th at the Contemporary Theatre Company. Tickets are free, but reservable. For details, see www.outloudtheatre.org.
Poster by Katie Hand.