Rachel Grossman and Jon Reynolds of dog & pony dc
In the House is a feature interview series about the theater-makers that keep our most precious institutions up and running. We want to know what artistic and executive directors love about their jobs, how they see their work affecting the city’s theater culture, and what they hope for the future of the craft.
Rachel Grossman, Jon Reynolds, and Lorraine Ressegger-Slone are the Ring Leaders of dog & pony dc, an ensemble of artists who devise innovative performances that incorporate new ways for audiences to experience theatre.
I sat down with Rachel and Jon to talk about their company’s unique production process and what it takes to integrate audiences in original and effective ways.
Joanna Castle Miller: How do you decide what shows to include in a season?
Rachel Grossman: Well the first step is we don’t, because we don’t have a season, which is not to be dismissive. Twice a year we have what’s called a future projects meeting – the equivalent of a season planning meeting – with the entire ensemble.
Theatres near and far have tried many ways to integrate social media into their business from tweet seats to rehearsal tweet-ups. Dog and Pony DC has taken the social experience to a new level with their latest endeavor, A Killing Game. Not only does the show encourage you to follow the conversation on Twitter, but it allows audiences to tweet during the show, which is about a viral outbreak that wreaks havoc onto a small town. There is plenty of time to check Twitter during frenetic scenes of actors pacing around the small blackbox theatre at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. Even though silence fills the room, the airwaves are a buzz as the actors type on their smartphones to tweet about the spread of the disease. Following the twitter handles of the in-show characters offers a modern-day glimpse of how panic, information, and fear of an outbreak can spread faster than the disease that is to blame.
Performance live tweeting is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to audience participation for this show, which is more of an improv show than a traditional play. Audience members are handed cards upon arrival which contain instructions and actions to perform during the course of the show. The tasks range from “dying” on the delivery of a certain line to stepping into a role alongside the actors as a town official dealing with the outbreak. The results are a highly interactive and enjoyable romp that is mash-up of Clue and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Photo by Clinton Brandhagen
When I asked a friend of mine if he wanted to come see Dog and Pony DC’s production of Beertown with me he replied, “No thanks- it doesn’t look like my type of thing.”
He’s right- if you expect to simply sit quietly through a show then Beertown isn’t for you.
However if you are ready to partake in a potluck dessert spread, slap on a nametag, and participate in some rousing discussion then I cannot recommend Beertown enough.
The cast of "Courage," a dog & pony dc production. Photo credit: C. Stanley Photography
Entering the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop black box theater for a performance of Courage: A Political Theatre Revival is a bit like crashing your neighbor’s weekend-long house party. The place is a mess, you don’t know anyone, but everyone seems to be having crazy fun so you jump right in, why not? If you aren’t the sort who likes the fourth wall being broken repeatedly as actors address you directly and encourage you to participate, this isn’t the production for you. But if you love party-crashing, you’ll get along.
Maybe you shouldn’t trust my opinion, after all, I was handed a beer shortly upon arrival. It’s a new strategy, getting your reviewer tipsy, but everyone else was doing it too (so yes, I caved to peer pressure). In addition to free beer, you’ll be recruited into the army with a hilarious questionnaire. This raucous atmosphere before the show even begins puts you both at ease and on edge at the same time – the perfect mood for a work that’s actually based on Bertolt Brecht’s classic anti-war play Mother Courage and Her Children.
This production by dog & pony dc uses the very colloquial David Hare version as a starting point, accented by a live band with original music by John Milosich and directed (or rather, “radically re-imagined”) by Rachel Grossman, who describes the action as “NASCAR punk political theatre mosh-pit.” Apt. It closes June 26, so race on over – performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30pm.
Now that you’re prepared for the preamble, what about the production itself? Continue reading