MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're talking about underdogs. So you know the website urbandictionary.com? It's basically this collection of slang words and phrases with definitions written by Internet users across the world. Anyway, if you head over to that site and you look up the word underdog, you'll find one definition that I totally love.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Someone posted it a few years back in 2005, a user known as "The Bo$$" and by the way that's Bo$$ with two dollars signs instead of two S's. Anyhow, according to "The Bo$$," an underdog is a person that is a hard worker at what he or she does. These people are the future champions or bo$$e$ of the world. And, yes, "The Bo$$" wrote bo$$e$ with three dollar signs.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Well, the underdogs we'll meet next aren't exactly rolling in dollar signs or dollars, but their fans will tell you they're definitely hard workers And, in a way, real champions of the D.C. theater scene.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
So there's like a ring.
Okay. So it's a Monday night at Georgetown's National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts where Rorschach Theater Company is rehearsing its newest play.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
On a very squeaky floor.
Wait. I love this part.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2
(unintelligible) if you want to hit him, you hit him.
He had his back to me so I didn't want be like phoof.
(unintelligible) like a kidney punch (unintelligible)
All right. Just to explain what's going here, the play is a new one. It's called "Voices Underwater," by Abi Bash and the particular voices you're hearing belong to Carrie Ginsburg.
MS. CARRIE GINSBURG
I'm an actor and this is my first show with Rorschach.
Ricardo Fredrick Evans.
MR. RICARDO FREDRICK EVANS
I'm an actor. This is my first production with Rorschach.
And Jenny McConnell Frederick.
MS. JENNY MCCONNELL FREDERICK
I'm directing this production.
She also founded Rorschach with this guy.
MR. RANDY BAKER
Hi, I'm Randy Baker and I started the company with Jenny in summer of 1999.
So if you're feeling overwhelmed here, don't worry about it. Hanging with the Rorschach crew can be an overwhelming experience. But not in a bad way, says first time Rorschachian, Carrie.
From friends and colleagues who have worked with Rorschach in the past, I knew that they expected you to be very brave and to push yourself to be messy and I'll say ugly because that's what tells a good story.
And Rorschach's story starts, yes, in that summer of '99.
It was a crazy, sweaty summer.
And, says Randy Baker, at the time, he and Jenny were 24 years old working behind the scenes at a handful of D.C. theaters.
And no one was going to hire us to direct so like a lot of our friends, we didn't have a voice and so we sort of created a community of folks to give them a voice and to put on a production.
That production was Eugene O'Neil's "The Hairy Ape," staged at Theater J in northwest D.C.
We had the opportunity to kind of rent the theater for a deal.
This is Jenny again.
But it's a huge theater over there and we had no business trying to fill it with anyone at that point.
So they did what was to become one of Rorschach's signatures, one of its trademarks. They took that huge theater and with a shoestring budget, they used the space, well, a little bit differently.
We decided to take everything and put it onto the stage so the audience and the actors were onstage so it made this really awesomely, intimate up-close experience. And I think one of the reviews even talks about getting sweat on by the actors.
And so began another Rorschach signature. No, not getting schfitzed on by the performers, though I'm sure that's happened many a time during our D.C. summers, but rather taking what Jenny calls, epic plays.
But having the up-close feeling so that the audience is right in the thick of it.
Sometimes even before the play begins.
What you're going to see in "Voices Underwater," in particular...
Says our newbie Rorschach actor, Ricardo.
...will be a very unique experience that everyone will be sharing before the play even starts so I think that will be really exciting.
As do I, especially because, to be honest, I have no idea what that means exactly. Let's just say Jenny runs quite the tight-lipped ship.
I don't think I want end that. I don't think I want to say what happens.
But she will divulge another unique thing about this play. The action takes place in Alabama, in the attic of this old house and there's this character, Jenny, played by actor Clementine Thomas.
She sort of ends up representing a leak in the house and so Clementine starts leak on stage.
Okay. So they didn't tell me how that part's going to work either. But the bottom line is this, with every play they produce, the folks at Rorschach not only want to engage you and challenge you...
But on top of that, we look for something that a little bit impossible.
That might be why Rorschach is especially drawn to magic.
We do a lot of plays that are related to magic realism and have sort of heightened elements that take us out of the everyday world.
Take, for instance, a show they did a few years back, Jason Grote's "This Storm Is What We Call Progress."
Where one of the characters, the stage direction is, she unzips his chest and the sky pours out. How do you not love that? Like you -- you have to love that. It's amazing.
And she says they found a way to make this amazing moment come to live.
We did it with lighting effects. We did it with sort of just the way it was staged and setup.
Though, again, she doesn't spill too many beans.
It's hard to explain more than that.
Okay. Fair is fair. But here's the thing, you have Rorschach doing all these epic, fantastical plays, right? But it isn't like -- it isn't like there's some multi-million dollar theater company. At one point, yes, they had their own space, they were whipping four shows a season on a pretty respectable budget.
Just about $100,000 a year.
But now that they're searching for a space again and not producing stuff quite as regularly...
Per show, it's minimal, you know, and we really have to think smart and think creatively. But I think it's really allowed us to be, probably a lot more creative than we would've been with more resources.
And when it comes to creativity, Rorschach's sees it as a two-way thing. I mean, sure they can call on their creativity to produce this imaginative, theatrical experience, but it's up to the audience to call on their creativity to interpret that experience in possibly, you know, a 100 different ways. In fact, says co-founder Randy Baker, that's pretty much why they chose the name Rorschach. As in, you know, the famous Rorschach inkblot test.
The idea of the inkblot being that what you see in the inkblot tells you more about yourself than it does about the inkblot itself and that's a metaphor for what we do here on stage.
And in spite of everything, they hope to keep doing their stuff on stage for a long time, no matter how in-your-lap intimate, off-the-wall magical or, yes, out-and-out impossible. "Voices Underwater" opens March 7. Pay what you can, previews begin March 5. For more information on the show and on Rorschach theater, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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