This year marks 12 Peers Theater’s fifth season and Pittsburgh in the Round spoke to Artistic Director Vince Ventura about the theater’s growth over the years and what audiences can expect in 2016.
This anniversary does not mark the end of growth or experimentation for 12 Peers in the least with two productions on the docket that are sure to intrigue audiences. The first, White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour, opening April 7th, is a one person show in which a different actor will perform each rendition. “In the past two seasons we found a model that really worked with the one person show.” said Ventura, “We tried to do that in a more experimental way this season with White Rabbit Red Rabbit.” According to Ventura, the actors will first see the script the night of the performance, removing interpretations of a director and the actors in order to showcase the writing “in the most distilled fashion possible.” There are currently thirteen performances planned for White Rabbit Red Rabbit but Ventura says they may need to extend that to accommodate for the interest they have received from the local acting community. Soleimanpour has received a lot of attention for this play, as it grapples with the notions of power and manipulation but he has insisted time and time again that it is not just about his home country of Iran.
12 Peers Theater’s second production, opening on August 4th is Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds. Some of you may recall McPherson’s work from City Theatre’s production of The Night Alive a few months back. “We really love Conor Mcpherson’s work. I think his adaptation of The Birds is just a strong script and that’s a big focus too, strength of material. The whole of our company has been really driven by the strength of material we were presenting,” said Ventura, “…We are also excited to bring in a couple non-american playwrights, it’s really the first time we have explored non-U.S. based authors.”
In addition to the stage productions, 12 Peers has launched its Modern Myths Podcast, a series exploring new plays and the people behind them. Out of 800 submissions, 13 plays were chosen and will be read over the course of the year. These readings take place each week followed by discussions with contributors such as Liz Leighton, author of Crying in the Shower. The podcast is just one tool in 12 Peers’ goal to further engage audiences and start conversations both in and outside of the theater. ““The end of the conversation with theater typically happens when people walk out of the auditorium and we don’t necessary think that’s fulfilling all that theater can,” Ventura said. “We want that conversation to extend through the car ride home and then on social media and getting an answer from us, the people making the art.” Ventura spoke of how theater must compete with other forms of entertainment that is becoming increasingly in demand and how the readings act as a way to provide theater on demand to enthusiasts and newcomers alike. As of the conversation with Ventura, the first three episodes had almost 1000 downloads and if interest remains steady, the series could become a permanent fixture in 12 Peers Theater’s output.
In another bold move, and in an attempt to further engage audiences and make theater accessible, 12 Peers Theater is inviting audiences to pay what they want for their tickets. Some of Pittsburgh’s companies and venues have embraced this model for a night or two per show, but 12 Peers is diving right into the experiment and doing so for every show of the season. “It’s not just for us, it is to build a community,” said Ventura. “It is to get people exposed to theater, it is to say to the college student who might only have five dollars in their pocket and maybe can’t afford a movie ticket, come to us.” To Ventura, that is what this initiative is about, filling seats, exposing people to theater who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see a show. In order for the the Pittsburgh theater community to grow, it must be able to fill seats with more than the older generation and people already imbedded in theater. “It is Okay to cut ties on our dependence on ticket sales so much and make this about building community,” said Ventura. “In truth, if no one is in the theater, we are doing this for ourselves and that is not what we should be doing.”
For more about 12 Peers Theater, their season and to listen to their Modern Myths podcast, check out their website here.