BWW Spotlight On: The Making of Eagle Theater's NOIR
I caught up with Eagle Theater's Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III who's about to bring a "world premier" event to the Eagle Theater, Hammonton Theater.
Pati Buehler: Ted, you premiered a live 'trailer' if you will, of NOIR at the first ever Jersey Fringe back in 2016. I was among those who first enjoyed the creativity of this mix of live action and film interaction. Please tell us how this concept originated with your co-writer Tim Rinehart?
Ted Wioncek III: Traditionally, the transaction between audience and storyteller mirrors that of the following; sit back, relax, and enjoy! Ultimately, you are being asked to play the role of spectator. But, what if I told you that we could take you inside the story? Not one or two steps closer, but three and four? That is what Theme Park Theater possesses the power to do; transform live entertainment by putting you in the center of the action!
In 2016, I pitched the idea for a film noir satire. The hook, as you mentioned, was to seamlessly blend live-action comedy with three-dimensional cinematography, using interactive in-theater special effects to fully immerse the audience.
I was still in the thick of developing the concept when I first approached Tim Rinehart to star as the lead. Little did we know that he would end up being the one and only star of this comedic tour de force. Tim and I first worked together in 2009 on a production of M*A*S*H. I was instantly drawn to his uncanny timing and knack for portraying a multitude of characters. But, what surprised me most was when he walked into rehearsal, having re-written three-quarters of the script. This is not a common practice, nor is it really acceptable. But, strike me down if he didn't have some mighty fine suggestions!
Soon after approaching Tim to play the role of the PI, he asked if he could take a stab at writing some dialogue. I agreed, however, decided not to let on that I was planning to create this as a 3D/4D experience. The next day he sent over twenty-pages of a classic noir satire with all your favorite stock characters and tropes. I laughed so hard that tears streamed down my face. Rinehart's writing is snappy, full of laugh-a-minute one-liners and hysterically absurd plotlines. I felt as though I was reading a Seth McFarland take on The Maltese Falcon! There was only one hitch; I could hear Tim's voice in every role. I called him immediately and told him that we would agree to use his script, if he agreed to play all the roles. There was about thirty seconds of silence on the other end of the phone. I think he was waiting for the punchline.
As we developed the script, we both agreed to continue to work on the story as if it were a true multi-actor play. We suspected that this process would ensure a more natural and fluid script, with no outside influences. While the concept came first, the experiential aspects would come much later, long after the plot and characters had been fully developed. It was not until the final draft of the script was approved that we embarked on an adventure to instill the first piece of Theme Park Theater.
PB: Tell us more about the collaboration with the Innovations Factory, which has been part of the Eagle's productions in the past.
TW: Innovations Factory (IF) is a core of theming artists dedicated to experiential storytelling through medium advancing technology. This collective includes designers from all discipline and backgrounds; set designers, lighting designers, prop designers, sound designers, scenic painters, engineers, carpenters, etc. Their talents are especially unique. Everyone has their own department yet have the ability to cross over to another area of expertise. These trusted and versatile individuals are responsible for our more whimsical flights of fancy.
The name itself derives from a question that seemed to follow this band of illusioneers into every single brainstorming session; What if? What if the walls could move, what if the stage could rotate, what if we provided a scent-sensory experience?
When I pitched the concept of Theme Park Theater to a few of the inhouse IF members, they immediately rolled up their sleeves and began discovering how we would bring it to life. Research and development have been monumental on NOIR: The 3D/4D Semi-Cinematic Satirical Thriller. Whether it be shooting on green screen, 3D projection, in-theater 4D special effects (mist, bubbles, seat sensors, surround sound), or musical scoring... this team has been up for the task!
Since the inception of IF, we have received a plethora of interest from emerging artists on how they can join. The answer is somewhat elusive. Anyone with a vast imagination who believes that live entertainment has only begun to scratch the surface is a viable candidate. We look for artists that ask more of their art. No one goes into the arts because they long to do the same thing day in and day out. So, why produce work in this manner? We look to keep it fresh by having fun because we are always in a constant state of discovery!
PB: Having seen the Eagle's ability to transport moving 'sets to suit the scenes and cast members appearing and disappearing into 'closets' in past productions such as Frank Wildhorn's "The Civil War; The Musical", "Peter and the Starcatcher" and "Little Women". What prompts you to 'push the envelope' in your choice of direction and how have audiences received these creative choices?
TW: I think it is important to refrain from being innovative for innovations sake. Sure, you can be an innovator by nature. It can be part of your brand. It can help you plus-up an experience. But, it must always come from within the story being told. Each production you mentioned was innovative out of necessity to tell the story in the most powerful and heartfelt way possible.
Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Designer and President, Joe Rohde, stated in the Afterword of David Younger's Theme Park Design & The Art of Themed Entertainment, "To have a profession, one must have something to profess." I have always felt that it is my personal responsibility as a creator to expand the medium by any means possible. As a storyteller, the audience experience should always remain paramount. We tell stories in hopes of forming a connection... a bond. If I can help strengthen that connection by "pushing the envelope", why not? If you're not going to push the envelope for your audience, then for whom are you pushing?
PB: Many people are aware of your passion... ahem... obsession for Star Wars and everything Disney. What are you trying, and successfully I might add, to achieve with these creative ideas and what's next for the future of the Eagle?
TW: Haha... caught. I guess I'm as subtle as a Death Star blast to Alderaan, huh? What, too soon? I grew up as a proud card-carrying member of the Lucasfilm Ltd. Official Fan Club! Even my Instagram user name is inspired by droids... two or three! Admittedly, the first childhood memory I have is exploring Walt Disney World and Universal Studios with my family. Heck, even my favorite sports team was the Harlem Globetrotters! Throughout the years, my love of exploring new worlds in the form of live entertainment would never waiver. Rather, it manifested in a dream of creating new worlds in the form of live entertainment. In many ways, all that we have achieved has led to this moment, this new brand, Theme Park Theater. But, it takes a group of brave and inspired individuals to say "yes" before you can turn that dream into Realityland.
As for what is next... I can only assure you, it won't be more of the same!
NOIR plays at the Eagle Theatre 208 Vine St. Hammonton NJ 08037
Previews September 12 & 13, 2018
Runs September 14 - October 14, 2018
For tickets and more information visit www.eagletheater.org or call 609.704.5012