BWW Interviews: OUT LOUD Theatre Promises Innovative, Immersive Theatrical Experiences in Season Three
OUT LOUD Theatre recently completed a successful season-long collaboration with Cranston's Artists' Exchange, and the up-and-coming troupe will continue to break new ground in its third full season. The company's ambitious winter and spring schedule includes two Rhode Island premiere performances. Kira Hawkridge, OUT LOUD's artistic director, joined BroadwayWorld Rhode Island to discuss the season's productions and preview how these selections fit into OUT LOUD's vision for innovative and immersive theatrical experiences.
VB: OUT LOUD Theatre just completed its second full season with performances held in the Black Box space at Cranston's Artists' Exchange. How did that collaboration work out, and will you be continuing to partner with AE during the coming season?
KH: The partnership went wonderfully, and a huge part of that was because of Kevin Broccoli and him opening the doors for us. He's a resident artist with Artists' Exchange and he helped to spark the Epic sponsorship, which is what got us in the door. It was really fantastic to be able to have a home base for a little while, to be able to collaborate with them, and have a space to foster our projects and to bring in more artists. That was the biggest thing that it helped us do - because we still want to continue to tour, and to travel around into different spaces, and still create that transformative energy of moving into different locations, transforming it, creating that immersive experience, and then packing up and moving to the next space; that's still very much part of our aesthetic - but it was great to be able to have that home base to bring in other people and to have a place to rehearse, and the projects that we chose were really specific to getting to rehearse in that space for a long period of time, so that was really helpful as well.
This upcoming season, our projects are a little bit more location-oriented, and so we're looking for spaces that are a little bit bigger and a little bit more site-specific. I'm not sure if we'll be returning back [to Artists' Exchange] this year, but they've been very open to us about continuing to support us and continuing that line of communication and collaboration in the future, which is really wonderful.
VB: Would you share some of the highlights from Season Two? What are some stand-out memories from the AE residency? Did the collaborations there spark new directions for OUT LOUD or influence your selections for Season Three?
KH: The biggest project for us, by far, was when we did our Tour for Social Change, which was at the beginning of the year, around April and May. That took a two month span, which was great because it was an opportunity for us to collaborate with "This is Free Providence." The greatest thing about that was it really allowed us to connect with different communities and set the tone for our aesthetic and our voice moving forward, which is this sense of socially-engaged material, but also immersive storytelling and experimental presentations. So that was really great and we were able to do that because of a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. That really allowed us to kick off in a big, bad way and then move into our other sponsorships.
Being at the Artists' Exchange was also wonderful because we were able to do Metamorphoses, the two-night reading of A Year of Magical Thinking, and we closed out with the New Works Festival, which had over 50 local and out-of-town artists involved either as playwrights, directors, or actors. So that was another really wonderful way to support the community and also to make connections and collaborations with different artists that we might not have had a chance to work with before. That was a really great way to close out the season; we started with something that was very expansive and we ended with something that was equally as expansive.
VB: OUT LOUD will host the Rhode Island Premiere of Maria Irene Fornes' Fefu and Her Friends this winter. What drew you to this story and these characters?
KH: A couple of our troupe members have been talking about work that they're interested in and bringing it to the table, and one of our troupe members who was very active with us this year brought the script to me and said, "You know, I think this is up your alley. Take a look at it, read it, and see what you think." When I read it, I absolutely loved it, and I loved it because of the themes that it explores. I love that it's an all-female cast, that there's an opportunity to present a female-forward project. Our whole concept with it is to create an all-female team, so the cast is all female, I'll be directing, our stage manager, production manager, lighting designer, costume designer - all will be female. And we're hoping to bring in some younger generations as well; there's this girl, Lauren, who is a high school student who I've worked with as a teaching artist, and she came on with us as sort of an OUT LOUD intern, and she's going to come on for [Fefu] as well.
I'm excited about that element, but it's also going to fit into and kick off what our third season is all going to be about, which is "Beyond the Form." What we want to do is create a series of projects throughout the season that explore transformation, either within the space or within the physical form of the actor. What Fefu does is that all of the locations in the play remain the same, but there are different spaces that are set up in the theater, and the audience moves throughout the theater. Which is really cool, I think, and something that challenges the audience in a different way that maybe the Rhode Island theater scene might not be at the forefront of at the moment. I think it's exciting to be exploring that material and to present an opportunity for audiences to come and experience something different.
VB: Would you share some insights on your approach to [Fefu's] space and setting?
KH: One of the exciting things, and also the thrilling stuff about us creating these pieces in different locations is that we're still in the process of negotiating where all these projects are going to take place . . . there are so many different venues that have been so incredibly supportive and have tried to model things off of that Epic sponsorship in presenting new opportunities for young artists, which is wonderful. And that's the thing that OUT LOUD should be at the forefront of as well, kick-starting those opportunities and those relationships with larger venues; that paves the way for other young artists as we continue to grow. That's something that's really important to us, is to continue to keep opening that door and allowing people to join us and work with us, and that our team is sort of ever-changing and ever-evolving. Which is exciting, but it also allows us to work with different types of people and allow their work to continue to grow.
[Performance dates and full details for OUT LOUD's production of Fefu and Her Friends were made available to BroadwayWorld Rhode Island at press time. See the close of this interview for complete location and scheduling information.]
VB: Do you have a particular dynamic in mind for casting Fefu's company? Have you started the auditioning for the show yet?
KH: We're still sort of formulating how we're bringing artists into the fold, and I think by the time we get to our fourth season, we'll be able to hold open auditions for each of these productions. Up until now, it's sort of been the thing where we've contacted artists that we've worked with or that we know, and we're like, "Wanna be in a play?" Which is a fun place to begin, so we're pulling artists that we'd like to read for specific roles and then holding auditions based on that. But by the time we get to our fourth season, I think we'll be able to have enough of our footing to be able to put it out to the community and have people come to us.
VB: Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros is planned later in the season. How will OUT LOUD put its own special stamp on this unique, thought-provoking piece? In what ways will the company use its signature focus on immersive theater and physicality to bring this production to life?
KH: Something that we're really excited about exploring is the transformation of the people turning into the rhinos and what that means, and we're really excited to explore the physicality of the actor. A lot of times, productions of Rhinoceros explore mask work or different, elaborate costumes that portray the rhinos, and we're really interested in exploring how we can create that transformation through purely physical movement and light, and also the relationship of the audience and where they are in the space. That idea of creating physical theater and movement-oriented, core visceral work is, I think, is really [clearly seen] through a piece like Rhinoceros. We're just excited to take that element and move forward with that through exercises like contact improv and different exercises we're going to hopefully bring to the table during rehearsals.
VB: What are some of the challenges and rewards of directing a "theatre of the absurd" piece like Rhinoceros? How do these impact the dynamic between actor and director?
KH: All of the pieces that I've directed over the last couple of years have had a visceral, movement-oriented core, and that can be extremely challenging in the rehearsals, especially if actors have not worked in that way before. The way that I approach my work is that it's almost like choreography; the movement is particularly specific, and what I find through that is that the actors are able find their own emotional connection through the movement. Once they tap into that connection, they're able to fly.
I relate that to what I learned about when I took this jazz class when I was in college and this idea of learning all of these notes and learning all of the structure of playing music, and then once you have all of those tools, you can swing and you go. That's how we approach these physical pieces, and what's interesting is that it requires you to be in the moment for the entire time - and, I mean, that's with any sort of piece - but it forces you to connect to your body, and your voice, and the story all at once, right away. That can be very challenging, but also, once you tap into whatever that is that you need to tap into to get you there, it's really rewarding as you go through and explore where that takes you.
KH: I've been a huge fan of Shared Experience for a very long time; I was able to see their production of Jane Eyre when I was younger, in London. They do devised work, so they choose very specific projects and they work toward those projects for years. Sometimes they only produce one or two shows within a year, and their company is extremely movement-oriented. They take classic stories and transform them into something that is really, really beautifully moving in regards to how they approach the physical. And so, their take on Jane Eyre is that Bertha (who's the woman who is locked up in the attic) is also sort of an extension of Jane, and the internal, more visceral side of her that we don't necessarily get to see, and it explores their connection.
The two actors that are playing both Jane and Bertha for the first half of the show are completely intertwined; they speak a lot of the same lines and they have a whole relationship, and then [Jane] locks [Bertha] up in the attic as sort of a representation of locking away that side of herself. In that, she also becomes the woman up in the attic. It's really, really interesting in how she approaches this other side of Jane that may not be at the forefront of the original story, but it's definitely there within the text. So I'm excited about exploring that relationship in particular and what it means to have that connection with that other actor, and then to have to let that go, and then when she bursts forth at certain moments of the play. It's just beautifully written and beautifully constructed; the way that they put the piece together in regards to physicality is right up our alley. I think it will be really exciting for audiences to see something that wasn't devised not only in Rhode Island, but in the [country], that was something from a completely other perspective.
VB: I know it's early to be thinking about summertime, but does OUT LOUD have any special projects or theatrical collaborations on the horizon? Are there plans in the works to continue summer partnerships you established with area high schools and colleges last year?
KH: In the fall, we're hoping to do another Tour for Social Change; depending on where the year takes us, we'll announce what that theme will be. It's definitely something that we want to continue and make an annual endeavor, to tour the different high schools, and colleges, and universities, and continue different conversations in the communities. I think it's good for us, it's good for our work; it's good to create something original and then to share that with the different generations, and especially students. Having their feedback and having that connection to those different communities is really important, and creating that lifeline and continuing to foster that. And we're also hoping to return to our New Works Festival stage at OUR LOUD next year as well, having learned a lot from this year in regards to how to work with playwrights, and what's the best way to workshop and to host talk backs. That's a whole other thing that sparked within the troupe that we're really excited to continue with.
OUT LOUD Theatre's first production of the season, Fefu and Her Friends, will be staged at The Mathewson Street Theater, 134 Mathewson Street, Providence, RI. General Admission tickets are $15.00; students and senior discounts are available. A "pay-what-you-can" preview performance is scheduled for Sunday, February 15, 2015 at 7:30pm. Regular performances run February 17, 19-21, and 26-28. Three "Fundraise for Fefu" campaign events will be held in January as well.
To purchase tickets, find complete details on the "Fundraise for Fefu" events, or to see OUT LOUD's full season schedule, visit the company's website at www.outloudtheatre.org.
Pictured: The cast of OUT LOUD's Fefu and Her Friends
Photo credit: Justine M. Johnson