Last summer, for this column, I took a brief look at Baltimore’s Ten-Minute Play Festival, hosted by the UnSaddestFactory Theatre. The most mind-blowing feature of that weekend of occasionally brilliant controlled chaos was the audience. First, the audience was standing-room only. Many of the chairs were filled with members of Baltimore’s DIY community. [The acronym DIY isn’t part of your common parlance? It stands for Do It Yourself, tends to gravitate around the city’s booming music scene, but includes do-it-yourself film makers, performers, artists, and mixes of all four.]Now, Baltimore’s ACME Corporation will be taking another step: a more established theatre that will take the creative energies of that movement and funnel them into the city’s theatre scene. Playwright Lola Pierson says she cofounded UnSaddestFactory Theatre with one goal in mind: to bring the theatre to the DIY community. Performances in the Bell Foundry — a residential and artistic space near Baltimore’s Penn Station — did that. Now, she says, with ACME, she hopes to develop a more established venue, where artists and musicians will be encouraged to bring their energized approach to music or arts to the established stage.
I headed down to a small coffee shop on Hampden’s Avenue last week to learn a little more about The ACME Corporation. Lola Pierson and Stephen Nunns, cofounders, and, I guess, CEO’s, explained where the name came from.
“It has to do with cartoons,” said Pierson, “The Roadrunner and Coyote Cartoons. The Coyote would always get products from the ACME Corporation. They’d never work, they’d always, sort of explode.’
So the name ACME was supposed to evoke a wide range of products that blow up in your face. But how is that different other companies in Baltimore?
“Well,” says Pierson, “I think we are different. We’re doing this sort of interesting thing of wedding the DIY scene with the academic theatre that goes on in the city. I don’t see that happening all that much. Our first thing, which is a night of shorts, has a number of musicians and other people from the DIY community.”
If you’re from Baltimore, you’ll understand. There’s a theatre community, a pretty famous music movement, a lot of talented artists, and a lot of people wearing clothes and haircuts that you might call Bohemian. For a while, it was very easy to tell them apart: they never showed up at the same place. That’s changing.
Stephen Nunns is assistant professor and director of the MFA Program in Theatre Arts at Towson. Nunns says he hopes that ACME will help channel that energy into a longer-lasting, more professional venue.
“There’ve always been these pods,” he says, “The thing about the DIY community that I’ve always wondered about what was the sustainability question. That’s what I want us to look at. Because at a certain point you don’t want to be in a band anymore. How do you keep that energy up and keep it going forward.”
He says that ACME isn’t the answer to that problem. “But it’s something we think about. The energy is amazing. But there’s this tendency…people do something for a little while, and then the new crop comes in. It’s nothing new.”
ACME is trying to take some of those energies and fit them into what Nunns calls a “semi-traditional theatrical structure.” His description of the first production, called Rogue Waves: An Evening of Shorts offers a peek at the mix of traditional, non-traditional, theatrical, and DIY which the company will be offering.
The evening begins with a walk into the Bell Foundry. Audience members move from one room to the next. They begin with Quantum Soup, by Juanita Rockwell, where the two actors will be performing their play while cooking food in the kitchen. The audience gets to eat. Then everyone heads down to the basement. The Beckett play, Not I, directed by Nunns, is shown. From there, audience members are led into the bar, where Yury Urnov directs Russian playwright Maksym Kurochkin’s Circuit Breaker, which involves (apparently) Urnov getting drunk on stage while performing the play. Then the audience members watch a movie.
“I think it’s more of an event than just a play,” says Nunns.
After Rogue Waves, the company has several other productions up its sleeve. In May, The Dream Sequence by Tom Shade will premier. (A few years ago, Shade’s production of There’s Another Man in My Wife’s Bed came to Baltimore.) Temple Crocker, founding member of performance collective Woof Nova will be acting in this. And Yury Urnov will be putting his spin on Three Sisters, in which the sisters themselves will be represented as Zombies.
I note that in my experience, the music and theatre communities have pretty much existed on different planes. Pierson, who has collaborated with several local musicians in her work, thinks that era is over.
“What I really like is that all of these groups are coming together. Everyone sort of knows one another. But ACME is an effort to move that from being a sort of social thing to the professional realm. And I think it’s going to work.”
Presumably ACME Corporation is a corporation that manufactures things that DON’T blow up in your face. So check it out.
Rogue Waves (An Evening of Shorts) will be presented Feb. 11, 12, 17 and 18 at 8pm at The Bell Foundry 1539 N. Calvert St (corner of Calvert and Federal) in Baltimore.