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Interview

The Alley Theatre Gets to Know Its Acting Company

The Alley Theatre Gets to Know Its Acting Company
Photo Source: Lynn Lane

Patrons of the Alley Theatre in Houston are accustomed to seeing familiar faces onstage. The LORT member theater is home to a 14-member acting company that serves as the backbone of the majority of productions each season. They’re a group of actors who can weave seamlessly through Shakespearean fairies, Brooklyn longshoremen, demonic sock puppets, and the ultimate cold read.

The newest addition to the acting company, Emily Trask, is in her second season with the Alley. Some have been a part of the residency for over two decades. All juggle a variety of shows, from classics to new works. None fall into archetypes.

“We don’t work in the idea of a character person or an ingénue person or anything like that,” artistic director Gregory Boyd tells Backstage. Having a dynamic and familiar company allows him to shape significant portions of a season with specific actors in mind. The 2016–17 season opener, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” was chosen as a vehicle for current company members, for example. The staging also featured actors from the Alley’s “extended family,” including Michael Brusasco, who returned to the Houston venue after having performed there in previous productions.

The use of a resident acting company also highlights one of the original tenets of LORT: a sense of community ownership. “The audience has a proprietorship with these actors,” explains Boyd. “The artists live in the community for which they perform.”

READ: “Robert Askins’ ‘Hand to God’ Brings Fire and Brimstone to Broadway”

Along with titles that showcase the talents of the Alley’s acting company, Boyd looks for classics that contain a “contemporary relevance” to include in a season. In April 2017, the Alley will present Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.” The story of a group of immigrants threatening a deluded patriarch’s status quo clearly has a resonance in today’s political climate.

Additional timely titles this season include “Hand to God,” Robert Askins’ irreverent comedy exploring organized religion in America, and “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a one-person show in which the performer receives the script for the first time upon setting foot onstage. Its playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, uses the play to both enlighten the audience of his experience in Iran and blur the lines of performance and blind obedience. Each company member will take center stage in the distinct show throughout the course of the season.

The Alley’s new play festival, Alley All New, returns for its second year in 2017, and will present six public readings and workshops over two weeks. Select scripts from the festival are further developed for full stagings; this season’s production of “Syncing Ink” began at the festival last year, as did Duncan Sheik and Suzanne Vega’s “Lover, Beloved,” which will return for a full production next season.

The Alley also holds local casting searches, as well as New York calls through Duncan Stewart of Stewart/Whitley, to round out the season roster. Some productions, like this year’s “Freaky Friday” and “Let the Right One In,” are cast entirely with performers outside the company. The latter comes from the National Theatre of Scotland; the Alley aims to present one international production each season.

The blend of resident actors and visiting artists offers a collaborative experience in the rehearsal room. “Actors coming from New York into this situation can see what the life and culture of a resident company is,” says Boyd. “And the actors here get a chance to work with people they don’t normally work with.”

That dynamic approach to the casting process allows for an equally dynamic season layout. As Boyd sums it up, “That’s fantastic.”

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