by Guest Writer Jon Jon Johnson
This all started on a whim.
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at devising a piece. While season planning for Avalanche Theatre Company’s 2012-2013 season, I mentioned this desire to my eternal partner-in-crime, known in the real world as Elizabeth Hansen. At the same time we both thought,”… why not do that for Fringe?” We’ve already produced two scripted Fringe shows, so on this charming third try, why not do something a little crazy like creating our own show from scratch?
I decided that I wanted a group of eight people with whom we would collaborate. Originally, the show was entitled In Extremis because of Elizabeth’s and my love of extremes. The idea of extremes inspired the themes that we chose to explore: Eroticism, Brutality, Addiction, Depression, and Ecstasy. These are things that people typically keep hidden, and we were excited to give them a place on stage– not just as character traits, but as full blown ideas.
But something about the faux-latin In Extremis didn’t feel quite right. And without a title, it can be hard to focus the themes of a devised piece into a tangible play.
I was hit with the proverbial lightning bolt while watching the anime “Full-Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” This word popped up: “Apotheosis.”
n. the glorification of something to the level of the divine.
And just like that, we had a title.
By applying that concept to our themes, I knew that our actors and audience would find a way to emotionally and intellectually engage with our topics, which are normally kept abstruse, allowing us to celebrate and investigate them rather than hide from them.
As you may expect, our audition process was unconventional … given that there was no script from which auditionees could read. Instead, we gave auditionees five minutes to perform any kind of piece that they considered ’emotionally-moving’. For callbacks, Elizabeth and I met the actors at a coffeehouse, where we chatted with them about an array of topics: life, theatre, art, favorite coffee accoutrement, or whatever other sundry topic came up in conversation. After all, if we were going to devise a piece of art with them, we wanted to make sure that we all got along.
To top it all off, Elizabeth and I auditioned for one another to ensure that we could also fit into the group. Both of us were prepared to step out of the cast if that was best for the group dynamic. Ultimately, we both felt comfortable allowing ourselves (and the other person) to be in the cast.
Our cast has been engaging in a rehearsal process filled with openness and honesty. Each person is in charge of devising and directing a scene that features some, if not all, of the rest of the group. Each scene centers around one of our themes. We share, we build together, and we all help each other, allowing us to find the connective tissue that ties each of the scenes together.
by the Avalanche Theatre Ensemble
at Fort Fringe – The Shop
607 New York Ave NW,
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
We know we are tackling issues that are uncomfortable – that idea is the kernel from which this play has grown. But in approaching these issues with sensitivity, we believe we are creating a piece that audiences will want to engage in and react to – even if that is to voice opposition to specific ideas or decisions made by the characters in the scenes.
Now that we are halfway through the rehearsal process, I can confidently say that the Capital Fringe Festival is the best forum to put up a piece like this. We’ve assembled actors, movement specialists, dancers, writers, and musicians with special skills ranging from “Sarcasm” to “Twerking” to “Violin” to “Able to fall down gracefully”. This collection is admittedly not something often found on a “mainstream” stage – but Fringe? Yes. Fringe is just the right environment for us to go out on that whim.
This production is presented as a part of the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, a program of the Washington, DC non-profit Capital Fringe.
— Jon Jon Johnson: DC-based Actor, Director, Playwright, Violinist, and Avalanche Theatre Company Co-Founder —
Fringe Peeks is part of our ‘in their own words’ series.