Preview: Anonymous Theatre

Justin Wescoat Sanders, The Portland Mercury * May 15, 2003


Anonymous Theatre is written theater at its most spontaneous. The actors for the event were cast in secret for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest; memorized their lines on their own; met with the directors of the production three times (total!), alone, for extremely basic blocking instructions. As I write this they have no idea who else is in the play with them, and will not know until Saturday night, when each actor enters the stage, in character, from their respective seats in the audience, and start delivering their lines. When Algernon meets Cecily for the first time, the actor playing Algernon will really be meeting the actress playing Cecily for the first time.

In traditional theater, where the cast has been working together for some time, the reactions are elaborate hoaxes, concentrated efforts by the actors to "act natural," to hide the fact they've rehearsed every scene dozens of times. The cast of Anonymous Theatre won't be hiding anything; there's nothing to hide. There is no established chemistry. It will all be created organically, onstage, in front of the audience's very eyes. The "acting natural" won't be an act, it'll just be "natural."

Clearly, there is a potential for extreme danger at this thing. The Importance of Being Earnest is a strange choice for such an experiment. Stylized and uppity, it's an ensemble piece that traditionally involves precise timing between the actors for its barrage of clever one-liners to hit home. The chance to develop this timing does not exist here. Earnest is also a three-hour play. If things ain't working at Anonymous Theatre (and if they ain't it will be almost immediately apparent) they won't be working for a long time. Most rehearsed productions of Earnest in this day and age have a tough time making it crackle for its duration.

So it remains to be seen if Anonymous Theatre's fascinating premise can win out over its questionable play selection. Either way, the energy at this show will be electric. Actors rarely get to perform these kind of exhilarating stunts, and audiences rarely get to see them. If the stunt fails, it will fail magnificently, like a daredevil misjudging his leap across that canyon, falling like a dying firefly into a seething abyss.

Unscripted 'Forum' plays for effect

Margie Boule, The Oregonian * Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The actor's nightmares: Forgetting a line onstage. Missing an entrance. Standing on stage and having no idea what scene you're in.

Imagine combining all these nightmares, adding quite a few others and then volunteering to experience them -- without being paid to do so.

That's what happened last week, when Anonymous Theatre Company and Theatre Vertigo once again produced a theater piece guaranteed to drive actors crazy and amuse the heck out of the paying audience.

It was a huge success on both counts.

Last week's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" put onstage a group of actors who never had rehearsed with each other for even a moment, accompanied by an orchestra the actors had never heard before.

That's the point of the annual production -- all actors are anonymous until the moment they have to speak their first line, when they rise from the audience and walk to the stage. Even the actors don't know who will be playing the other parts.

Last week a delighted audience watched actors sweat, swear, forget, improvise dance steps, miss entrances, pick up each other's props and turn in all the wrong directions. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening.

But what was it like for the actors on the stage? The performers who turned white or turned red or turned tail and sprinted from the stage in desperate exits?

"It was a rush," says Jeff Gorham, who played Marcus Lycus, owner of a house of courtesans. "It was like jumping out of an airplane without a chute."

"It was really, really, really exciting," says Bruce Blanchard, who took on the part of the wondrous Miles Gloriosis.

And Julianna Jaffe, in the leading role of the slave Pseudolus (a part usually played by a man with the stature of, say, Zero Mostel), found the experience "exhilarating."

Confidentiality was a concern even at auditions, held several weeks before the production. "It was orchestrated so you wouldn't run into anybody else," Jeff says. "As you went in, someone else was escorted out another door."

After the parts had been cast, the actors were given strict instructions: They could tell only a single person (a spouse or roommate, perhaps, who could help the actor memorize lines) that they were in the show.

Director Jim Crino e-mailed all stage directions to cast members, then met with each once or twice for individual rehearsals. "It was like having a secret affair with 20 people at the same time," Jim says.

Aside from the brief private coaching sessions, the actors were on their own.

Julianna, who had by far the most lines to memorize, says she "sat alone for a good month and a half," late nights, lunch hours, early mornings, memorizing. "I was actually pretty scared."

Before the show last week the actors were nervous, but they had to hide their fears so no one would suspect they were in the cast. Bruce admits he was shaking. Julianna suddenly couldn't remember any of her many lines. Jeff sat in his seat thinking, "What have I got myself into?"

Then one by one the actors rose from their seats in the audience and took the stage, in most cases joining complete strangers.

"What was going on backstage?" says Julianna, with a laugh. "A lot of introductions. I only knew one person in that whole cast."

There was a lot of high-energy teamwork going on backstage, the actors say. "It reminded me of when I used to be a waiter," Jeff says, when he'd be calm in front of customers and frenetic in the kitchen.

Actors handed each other props and ran to catch falling sets. Several studied scripts, frantically looking for their next entrances. Once, an actor realized someone standing nearby was supposed to be on stage and rather assertively pushed him in the right direction.

Onstage, whenever an actor forgot a line, he or she would say, "Line?" and a prompter in the front row would supply the missing words. Of course, that didn't help much when the cast skipped two entire pages.

They went back and fixed the error.

No one in the audience minded. Neither did the actors.

Many admit they auditioned for this production to face their own acting nightmares: of improv, of forgetting lines, of being under-rehearsed.

It worked. "This is the greatest way to discover and live through my fears," Julianna says. Bruce and Jeff agree.

Bruce, whose sword fell apart every time he unsheathed it, is no longer afraid of being underprepared on stage. Jeff, who got huge laughs when he was least sure of what came next, is less afraid of improv.

In the end, the advice director Jim Crino gave his actors in his first e-mail proved true: "Remember," he said, "the point of this is not the exuberance of perfection, it's the excitement of trying to get it right."

To do Monday: Anonymous Theatre!

Ben Waterhouse, The Willamette Week * March 23, 2007

Gee willickers, am I ever excited about this Monday's show at the Gerding Theater. For the sixth year running, Anonymous Theatre will take over another company's space and perform a show in which none of the actors know each other. Allow me to explain:

Two months ago Jim Crino sent out a call for actors for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The actors auditioned individually, and the results of the auditions have been kept secret.

Over the last several weeks, actors have rehearsed songs, dance routines, etc. one-on-one with Crino, but never together. They still don't know each other's identities.

On Monday, the cast will enter the Gerding Main Stage auditorium in street clothes and take their seats with the rest of the audience. The lights will go down and, as their cues come up, the actors will take the stage and try their damndest to make the production work.

It isn't often that you get an opportunity to see professional actors give entirely spontaneous performances. Weeks of rehearsal make all but the finest artists set in their reactions, but Monday's show will have none of that. Some of these folks may never have met before, and they can't help but give a fresh, new and potentially disastrous performance.

Then again, they'll be trying to put on a musical - a Sondheim musical, no less - without a single group rehearsal. Will they be able to sing together? Will dances come together on the spot, or will they fall apart in chaos? Will they remember who's playing who?

I'm predicting one part genius and one part hilarious train wreck. Find out for yourself. Go!

Anonymous Theatre: Nobody's Perfect

The Melbourne Observer * July 6, 2005

Beaumaris Theatre has just successfully presented the second Australian production of Anonymous Theatre. This year, well-known local theatre identity Ewen Crockett directed the comedy Nobody's Perfect by Simon Williams.

Excitement and mystery surrounded this pro-duction because the cast members rehearsed with only the director and stage manager and their identities were completely confidential until the curtain went up in front of the audience.

Ewen says "The concept of Anonymous Theatre is that by keeping the identities of the actors a secret, a spontaneity and reality is engendered that would not be present in any other form of theatre.

"After nearly 40 years in theatre and involvement in over 100 productions, I thought I pretty nearly knew it all. Wrong! Over the last few weeks I have learned that there is much more to theatre than the tried and trusted method of rehearsal.

"We have had to find different ways of developing bonds and the rapport that is so essential to a successful production. I have certainly enjoyed the challenge this presents, and I believe the cast has as well."