(From the January 2004 issue)
Eye Stop Productions
Columbus' newest theater company
All wrapped up in 'Tape'
By Karen Edwards
L-R: Mike Holmes (Jon), Heather Burley (Amy) and Anthony Peeples as Vince in Tape
Photo © Doug Fordyce
The last weekend in January - the same weekend that two downtown theater companies will premier an award-winning play - a fledgling theater troupe will open its second production, Tape, in space rented from Short North's Studio 16 gallery.
The new company, Eye Stop Productions, founded by co-artistic directors Anthony Peeples and Dave Wallingford, along with actress Heather Burley, doesn't consider itself in competition with Columbus' more established theater groups.
"We're staging different material," says Peeples.
Eye Stop is aiming for a young, hip audience that likes its material on the edgy side - plays that might appear off-Broadway, or on Chicago's small experimental stages. Its first production, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, is indicative of the kind of work you can expect from this new, young troupe, and last September, Vampires proved to be just what young, hip, Short North theatergoers were looking for.
"We staged it at the Short North Playhouse, and we sold out our opening night," says Peeples. That first night sell-out, as well as its consistent audience base throughout its run, is an impressive feat considering the company's non-existent marketing budget. Playgoers learned about the production from flyers distributed during the Short North Gallery Hop and more flyers posted around the area. "We drew a good mix," says Wallingford.
What made Vampires even more distinctive was Eden Furgal who Peeples cast in the lead role. The part was Furgal's first acting role. Ever. "She was wonderful," says Peeples. "She brought a creative passion to the process, which spilled over to the audience. They loved her."
While Eye Stop Productions has a pool of talented and experienced local theater artists to draw from, Peeples and Walling-ford say they are eager to work with individuals - both on stage and back stage - who are theater novices.
"We encourage people to come play with us," says Peeples. Once they do, they invariably become hooked on theater, creating a new pool of theater-goers - and players.
"We like mixing it up," says Wallingford. "When you do the same thing all the time, it can get stale. Working with non-theater people also allows us to view things differently." Wallingford, who handles the production side of the company, says that sometimes, during the on-the-job training, he'll be asked why something has to be done a certain way. "That makes us re-examine what we're doing and why we're doing it that way," says Wallingford. "It forces us to think our methods through, and to find better, more efficient ways of working."
Eye Stop Production's inclusive philosophy might be difficult to achieve, however, without its founders' own professional training and experience. In fact, all three principals have impressive theatrical credits. Peeples is a resident artist-educator with Phoenix Theatre for Children, and has acted with most of the major theater companies in town. He has also studied with Anne Bogart's renowned SITI Company, based in New York. And while Wallingford has designed sound for many Columbus theater companies, his longest-running sound gig has been with the Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he serves each summer as associate sound supervisor. Burley is a talented actress, who has appeared in a number of Columbus productions. All three met and collaborated as OSU theater students, and wanted to continue the work they were doing together at OSU.
Collaboration will continue to be an Eye Stop Production hallmark, says Peeples and Wallingford. They want their company to grow organically, as an ensemble effort; to blossom from the minds and talents of those who participate in its productions, and in the company's evolution.
Of course, they would someday like to be a "professional" company, says Peeples. Certainly, longer runs, an ensemble cast the company can afford to pay, and perhaps an amorphous warehouse that would allow for creative and flexible performance space are goals worth shooting for. But Eye Stop's founders are savvy enough to know that such developments take time, so, for now, they'll focus their efforts on building recognition, a reputation, and an audience for their work.
Their latest production, Tape, (see the Playgoer's Guide for more information) is a perfect play for the Studio 16 venue, says Peeples. "It's an intimate play, and the space will play into that," he says. (As an additional bonus, artist and Studio 16 gallery owner Doug Fordyce will provide the troupe with material to promote their play.)
Tape is designed around three people who are having an intimate conversation about past events in their lives. The Studio 16 space will hold about 30 people. "That's comfortable for a play like this," says Peeples. "The audience becomes almost like eavesdroppers, listening in on the conversation."
Although finding performance space in Columbus is a perennial problem for homeless acting troupes, Wallingford says Eye Stop Productions is not really looking for permanent space - at least not anytime soon.
"We like the freedom of being able to fit the play to the venue," he says.
If that occasionally presents a problem as far as short runs (Tape will be presented January 29 through February 1 only), then potential audience members will, no doubt, learn to act quickly. "If they miss this production, they can always catch our next," says Peeples.
What is Eye Stop's next production?
Peeples says he is reading plays constantly to find the right material to stage. "They come from everywhere, from everyone. There is so much out there," he says. Some of the material he reads is by established playwrights. He's especially fond of a Steve Martin play, a satire, he just read, Wasp - but Peeples says he is just as willing to read work produced by new and unknown playwrights.
When the right play comes along, Peeples will know it, and if his colleagues agree it's a good fit for the company, they'll take the necessary steps to mount their next production.
Until then, there's Tape. But act quickly if you intend to go. Like Christmas morning, chocolate truffles and national championships, the experience promises to be wonderful - but all too fleeting.
The Playgoer's Guide
Staged by: Eye Stop Productions (the company that brought Vampire Lesbians of Sodom to the Short North Playhouse last September.)
Where: Studio 16, 431 W. Third Avenue in Harrison West district of the Short North
When: Thursday, January 29 through Sunday, February 1
The story: Three high school friends meet one evening in Lansing, Michigan, 10 years after their high school graduation. Jon has become a filmmaker, and his current project is to be shown at a film festival in Lansing. His best friend Vince is a volunteer fireman in California, who earns his income selling dope. He has come to the festival to see Jon's film. The third friend, Amy, has dated both men, and is now serving in the district attorney's office in Lansing.
During the evening, before Amy arrives on the scene, Vince accuses Jon of raping Amy during one of their dates - and he records the resulting conversation on tape. Then, Vince calls Amy and invites her to join them for dinner.
What the artistic director says: Anthony Peeples, co-artistic director, Eye Stop Productions: "The play Tape says a lot about the human condition, as well as human relationships. Is truth something that can be arrived at when human perception is involved? All three characters tell us their truth, but what really happened that night when Jon dated Amy?"
About the cast: Anthony Peeples is Vince; Mike Holmes is Jon; and Heather Burley is Amy.
The likely audience: The play's characters are in their late 20s, and that age group is likely to make up a sizeable segment of the audience. However, any one of any age should find the story interesting, especially in its portrayal of the human condition. There is strong language in the play, so be advised.
Why you should attend: Tape, a one-act play, about an hour in length, had its premiere at the 2000 Humana Festival. This is an opportunity to see a relatively new play by a young playwright in a unique setting. Studio 16, where the play will be performed, can seat about 30 theater-goers per evening. That makes for especially intimate theater, enhancing the bond between the audience and performers, and adding to the play's theatricality.
There's another reason as well. Eye Stop's mission to bring younger, trendy productions to Columbus - the kind of plays you might find off-Broadway or on Chicago's experimental stages - will need to be supported if it's to continue, and it should. Columbus theater can only grow richer, and more hip, as a result.
Resources: The play is available from Dramatist's Play Service, Inc. and can also be ordered through any of the online bookstores. You can also preview the play if you like to do that kind of thing by renting the DVD, Tape, starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman and directed by Richard Linklater. Whatever you do, though, don't catch the video and skip the play. They are two very different experiences, and what can seem dull and claustrophobic on film can translate brilliantly on to the stage.
For tickets and more information:
Contact 299-7667 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets cost $12, $7 for students
Showtimes: January 29, 2004 - February 1, 2004
© 2004 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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