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FURY factory

April 20, 2007

As the producer of the annual Fringe Festival and Divafest, the Exit Theatre has long ruled the Bay Area’s freeform theater fiesta scene with a rod of box-office splits and free pretzels. But the local bastion of underground performance is about to face some stiff competition from San Francisco theater group foolsFURY. Bringing together the work of 13 companies from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, foolsFURY’s FURY factory celebrates the art of ensemble theater – that is, original productions developed through an ongoing creative collaboration between all artists involved rather than the more traditional method, where the power lies mostly with a director, star actor, or playwright.

The three-week festival launched last week with a party at Hotel Utah sponsored by The Onion and ends with a weekend-long symposium devoted to raising the profile of ensemble theater. In between, the festival offers an eclectic program of full-length productions, works-in-progress, and workshops with ensemble theater experts like Jubilith Moore.

Full-length works by local groups include foolsFURY’s adaptation of Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw, mugwumpin’s Still Standing Still, and Traveling Jewish Theatre’s Death of a Salesman. Visiting groups such as Zoo District, Ghost Road, and ARTEL from Los Angeles, and New York’s Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble will perform The Defenders, Orestes Remembered, We Play Devil’s Advocate (Variation #50) and 10 Brecht Poems respectively. The works-in-progress part of the proceedings, meanwhile, includes work by Dandelion Dance Theater and Aadika Singh.

Last night I caught two shows from the festival. mugwumpin's Still Sitting Still was a surreal and madcap duet between company founders Christopher W. White and Denmo Ibrahim which revolved around the relationship between a mother and her young son in a small-town community. There was a lot of humor in the language and physicality. The performers moved with the glassy perfection of synchronized swimmers. The world they created on stage with a couple of beaten up wooden doors, two Japanese paper umbrellas and a half-eaten pie was funny but also very dark.

I felt less convinced by foolsFURY's Turn of the Screw, adapted by Jeffery Hatcher from Henry James' novel. The text flowed well, but director Rod Hipskind got rather carried away with theatrical gimmicks that really got in the way of the storytelling for me. Some moments, like when the actors used a wooden bench and a fake horse's head to create the illusion of a coach journey across country, and when the actors trampled barefoot over the auditorium seating to suggest picking their way across rocks on a beach, were ingenious.

But I couldn't understand the reason behind turning the theatre around. Why have the audience sitting up on stage and the actors performing in the rest of the auditorium? There didn't seem a strong motive for it in the director's vision of James' text and the sight-lines were lousy. I started to get a headache from the constant use of hand-held lights. And I couldn't understand why two of the four actors spent most of the time fondling each other or messing about on the sidelines when it would have made most sense to give them the children's lines.

Still, foolsFURY's celebration of ensemble theatre is a wonderful addition to our local performing arts landscape. I hope it inspires more people to participate in and watch this kind of work in the future.

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1 Comments:

  • hey chloe,

    rod here. just wanted to respond to your blog about turn of the screw. truthfully, to defend our artistisic visions and also to open a dialog between critic and artist... because that seems to rarely happen and I repect your writing and support. the furyfactory for myself and the ensemble is a perfect blank slate for us to exercise that muscle that make us a creative force. the show is absolutely a work in progress. so it is good to hear your gut reaction. the choice to turn the audience towards the "house" was made to open up that space as never seen before, to remind you that as witness you are always remaining in a theater despite the nature of the story which James' wrote as a story within a story. and just a bit of meta play that allows us to do that "ingenious" physical work you had mentioned prior. additionally, the "other characters" are not seen in the Hatcher adaptation and we as an ensemble felt that they may not only facillitate action and movement of the peice but may bring to the surface the ghosts of the novella and/or the governess' mind. the lights..... what can I say about your headache? sorry. and for the sight lines too. truly the only undefendable action of your night.
    we are planning to remount the show for fringe and would love any other commentary.
    much, rod.

    By Anonymous rod hipskind, At June 1, 2007 at 5:36 PM  

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