Academic journal article TheatreForum

Out of the Mold and into the Event: Atlanta's out of Hand Theater

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Out of the Mold and into the Event: Atlanta's out of Hand Theater

Article excerpt

In April 2006, audiences walked into 7 Stages, an intimate 70 person theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, to find a small stage with a large overstuffed orange chair in the center. A cyclorama backdrop defined the playing space, a ladder on stage left led to a small landing, and an even smaller platform jutted out from the wall on stage right, on which stood a man held up by strings. A large "Applause" sign hung from the ceiling, a visible foreshadowing of the experience that was to take place in this intimate space over the next two hours. Upon entering the space the audience found nine actors already onstage in various positions of sleep. Since the doors opened only a few minutes before curtain, the members of the audience were required to enter quickly, and as they located their seats, they found them already occupied by teddy bears. Welcome to Out of Hand Theater's CARTOON.

Event Theatre

Founded in 2001 by a group of students who had recently graduated from Atlanta's Emory University, Out of Hand Theater has become known in the region for doing work that shocks and surprises its audiences. These out of the ordinary "surprises" have become such a part of the Out of Hand experience that for some regulars Out of Hand simply would not be Out of Hand without a gesture like finding a teddy bear in their chair. The founding members of Out of Hand joined together and to create a theatre company of and for their own generation. The goal was to create theatre that would target their peers rather than their parents; this meant rethinking both the plays being produced and the style in which they would be performed. Adam Fristoe, director of CARTOON, current co-artistic director with Ariel de Man and Maia Knispel (both actors in CARTOON), and a company member of Out of Hand Theater since its inception says:

We wanted to create work that we would want to see. We wanted to create work that had bold physical choices that titillated our audiences' intellect as well as desire to have a good time. We wanted to work hard and make theatre that was more than just reading out loud. We wanted to make theatre, not just interpret it.

The company has since become known for its distinctive aesthetic known as Event Theatre. For Out of Hand, Event Theatre is a theatrical experience that involves the audience in innovative ways. In this type of theatre the performance is but one portion of the Event, and the audience plays a crucial role in the production. Fristoe elaborates, "We are working to create Event Theatre that engages an audience in a way that a wedding, a football game, or a séance has an implicit role and meaning for the audience." In the last five years Out of Hand has explored the definition of Event Theatre. In 2003 the company performed Charles L. Mee's Big Love at the outdoor courtyard of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, a venue known in Atlanta for hosting weddings. As the audience entered the space they were asked to choose either the bride or grooms side, and during the performance the bouquet and garter were thrown into the audience, all gestures that cast the audience members as wedding guests. In 2004 the company produced the world premiere of HELP!, written by Steve Yockey (who also wrote CARTOON), in which four actors played life coaches. At HELP!, after finding their seats in Dad's Garage Theatre in Atlanta, the audience was divided up into four sections, each of which was given a life coach to coach them throughout the play. Depending on where he or she chose to sit, an audience member would be "cast" in the role of "poor," "sad," "drunk," or "just fine." The "just fine" group received the most coaching over the course of the play. Yockey says of Out of Hand's desire to do Event Theatre, "A big part of the mission statement is involving the audience. Out of Hand believes in experiential theatre where the audience is asked to participate whether they like it or not." It is this engagement with the audience that lies at the heart of Out of Hand's aesthetic, this engagement that creates the Event. …

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