Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rewriting Rites: TITO takes a different tack

Tough year last year for Theater in the Open, the company that has been living and performing at Maudslay State Park nearly a quarter-century, which had to suck it up and absorb a one-two combination of change and challenges that began during its dark winter months, traditionally a time of reassessment, when longtime artistic director Jeffrey Rath stepped down, and was followed up, rather quickly, by news that they would be getting the old heave-ho from the so-called Coachman Property, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century complex of buildings that included “the barn,” the nerve center for TITO productions for the past eight years. We’re using past tense because the suddenly vacant, historically significant building burned to a crisp earlier this year, before the state even managed to ink a deal with the organization that was supposed move in and dump hundreds of thousands into renovations, throwing the whole deal into disarray. Which is exactly what happened to Theater in the Open as it was about to open its thirtieth season.

Unsure of its status, the company dramatically scaled back the Rites of Spring, its traditional season-opening pageant, and moved it from the park to the other end of the city, starting out downtown, where the actors would generally call attention to themselves with some unscripted performances before parading to March’s Hill, where they would roll out the big guns — the giant puppets — for the Rites. It worked out nicely, says TITO artistic director Edward Speck, salvaging the production and boosting its public profile by bringing Theater in the Open to the people instead, but the company may have performed its last Rites. “This year we’re going in a different direction,” says Speck.

And that would be a completely different direction.

This year, the company will open the season not “in the open,” as its name proclaims, but inside, at the Dance Place, not performing one show twice over the course of a weekend, but five productions of three very different shows over three days. The Spring Fundraiser (apparently the person in charge of coming up with memorable names was on vacation) will feature:

• “Waiting for Godot”: The absurdist Samuel Beckett masterpiece will be directed by Stephen Haley. This production, which double-casts the main role, will feature performances by Phil Atkins, Missy Chabot, Dylan Fuller, Paul Wann and, rumor has it, Haley himself.

• “The Real Inspector Hound”: Tom Stoppard’s one-act who-done-it, a farce that blurs the line between audience and performers, will be directed by Speck. The cast includes Missy Chabot as Birdboot, Beth Randall as Moon, Bonnie Jean Wilbur as Mrs. Drudge, Matt Kiely as Simon, Hannah Libby as Felicity, Alyssa Theriault as Cynthia, Scott Smith as Magnus and Kelley Knight as Inspector Hound.

• The Olas Dance Party, featuring Portland-based world beat band influenced by Andalusian flamenco and Arabic folk music, whose members include Theater in the Open alum Dylan Blanchard.
There were a number of reasons the company decided to pass on the Rites this year, but mostly it was because of Mother Nature. Says Speck, the old girl shut down, at least partially, the Rites four times over the past six years. And it’s not just rain that’s the issue: Strong winds make it impossible to handle the giant puppets. Of course, the company will still have to pray for good weather for the rest of its summer and fall shows, but that will not be a concern with this show. Will the Rites return? No one is saying definitively, no one’s ruling anything out. Speck says the season opener “feels like it’s missing something,” and talks about incorporating the puppetry, the brand of storytelling normally featured in the Rites, elsewhere in the season. 

The season officially gets under way with “Cinderella: A Pretty Princess Panto,” panto being a physical storytelling device that places the put-upon Cinderella in a zany upside-down world. The summer program reprises Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” which will be directed by Haley. The summer workshops and popular fall program “Maudslay is Haunted” will return as usual. The winter show is up in the air right now, but will find TITO collaborating with Exit Dance Theatre and The Joppa Jazz Company for a still-secret Christmas production at the Firehouse.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Theater in the Open Spring Fundraiser takes place May 7 to 9 at the Dance Place at the Tannery, 50 Water St. Here is the schedule: 7 p.m. May 7, “Waiting for Godot,” Tickets are $20; 2 p.m. May 8. “The Real Inspector Hound,” directed by Edward Speck; 8 p.m. May 8, the Olas Dance Party. Tickets are $25; 2 p.m. May 9, bonus performance of “Waiting for Godot,” tickets are $20; 7 p.m. May 9, bonus performance of “The Real Inspector Hound,” tickets are $15. A three-show pass is available for $50 and includes one ticket to ”Godot” on the day of your choice, one ticket to “Inspector Hound” on the day of your choice and one ticket to the Olas Dance Party, including a wine and cheese mixer. For more information, call 978-465-2572 or log onto theaterintheopen.org.

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