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Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Different Kind of Theatre? An interview with Baby Horse Theatre Group Artistic Director Jon Becraft


By Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Jon Becraft, Danielle Burns and Kelli Fitzgibbon
of Baby Horse Theatre Group.
Baby Horse Theatre Group is a newly formed experimental theatre company here in Louisville. Artistic directors Jon Becraft and Kelli Fitzgibbon formed the group over the summer. Their goal is to break down the physical barriers between audience and performer, striving away from the traditional narrative form of mainstream theater. With their debut production, Biography of a Physical Sensation, the group is pushing the boundaries of traditional theater with the story of one woman’s life told only through physical and sensory impressions.

Arts-Louisville: What gave you the idea to start Baby Horse Theatre Group?

Jon Becraft: Kelli Fitzgibbon, the other artistic director, and I met in college. We both went to Hanover together, which is where I studied theater. She and I were good friends there, and after we graduated, we both moved permanently to Louisville. We had always been really interested in experimental theater. We wanted to do the kind of theater that wasn’t just the traditional narrative style, because that is going out of style and has declined over the past several decades. We wanted to see what kind of theater forms we could come up with that were different from what we’d seen and studied. 

AL: Did you have exposure to experimental theater at Hanover?

JB: Not particularly, though I was very pleased with the kind of work I was doing at Hanover. We [Kelli and I] had to broaden our horizons. Our first exposure to experimental theater was a trip to Austin, Texas. We met a lot of the theater companies down there during a festival. That’s where we met Rubber Repertory, the company that originated the show we’re doing, Biography of a Physical Sensation. We saw the first version of Biography there, and we were really blown away by the level of involvement and the connection that we had to the show. That was the moment where we thought, “This is something that Louisville doesn’t have.” We thought the perfect thing would be to start our own little company.

AL: What is the mission of Baby Horse Theatre Group? Do you have a specific message you are trying to get across?

JB: We want to do theater where there is no separation between audience and performer. Ultimately what will bring about the end of theater is the fact that movies and television provide the same thing that theater has for centuries. We believe that the future of theater will be an art form that presents the same ideas, concepts and stories that theater has in the past, but that can’t be duplicated by any other art form. We believe that what can’t be duplicated is physical interaction between performer and audience.

AL: Are there any particular artists who interest you who are doing what you’re doing?

JB: Rubber Repertory is one we admire, and also the performance artist, Marina Ambromovic. There was recently a documentary released about her called The Artist Is Present, where there was a retrospective of her work. In the documentary, she sat across from some people who came to see her work and they just sat and stared at each other for however long the attendee wanted to. The idea was to involve the artist and the audience physically. Back in the ’70s she did a performance where she stood in front of an audience with a huge series of objects in front of her. For six hours the audience could do whatever they wanted to her with any of the objects, and she wouldn’t resist. They were dangerous objects, some of them, and it was this really intense, moving, bizarre experience where the artist and the audience were engaged physically together.

AL: I don’t know if I would want to be the performer in that one.

JB: I don’t know if I would either. It takes a special kind of artist to do that.

AL: What is “Biography of a Physical Sensation”?

JB: It starts off with finding a subject, a person. We interviewed a woman who we went to school with. We interviewed her pretty extensively and got to know her entire life story with some very intimate details. We extracted what we felt were her most significant memories. From that, we extracted purely what she saw, felt, heard, smelled and tasted. We’ve since created this show where we are going to tell the story of her life but without the classic narrative style. We won’t provide any context for the memories. All we’ll do is expose the audience to different physical sensations, purely sensory things. Each audience member will have a different experience during the show because we have a huge list of different events that each individual audience member will experience. There are three different levels of intensity that the audience will choose from. That way, if they’re less inclined to get really intense, they can pick level one; if they’re a little bold, they will choose level two; and if they want to go all out for an intense, up-close, in-your-face experience, then they will choose level three.

AL: Do they get to change levels, or do they have to stick with the same level?

JB: They’ll choose a level before the show starts, and then stick with that one throughout the show.  -

AL: What is the performer’s role in all of that?

JB: We serve as guides and basically technicians for the audience members. We perform the sensations to the audience member using props, furniture, etc. We instruct them on little things to do. Essentially, we’re not as much performers as we are technicians.  -

AL: Is this your first foray into this kind of work?

JB: This is the first that we’ve done. We’ve been fans of it and have studied it for a long time.  -We’ve been developing this show throughout most of 2012. This will be our first time actually getting our hands dirty. We’re excited about it. 

AL: Are you nervous?

JB: We’re nervous because it’s the kind of show that you can’t rehearse for like most theater. - I’m used to knowing what the show will look like and what it will be a week before it opens. We really don’t know because so much of the shape of the show will depend on how the audience reacts. It’s unlike any theater experience we’ve ever had.  -

AL: What are your expectations about how the audience will react?  

JB: There will definitely be some people who will walk away from it feeling bothered or embarrassed by what happened, and that’s part of the show. We are performing sensations that come from the memories of a human being. Some of the memories are positive and some of them are negative. Even though the audience isn’t provided with the context from the biography of this woman, it might remind them of something that happened to them. They’re going to interpret it how they do, and we don’t have any control over that. I think there will be a lot of people who will initially be a little apprehensive about the experience, but ultimately the goal is to affect the audience. I would much rather have someone walk away with a negative emotion than walk away with no feeling whatsoever.

AL: Do you have any plans to write your own stuff?

JB: The next show we’re developing is totally original. The show after that is going to be entirely different. Our hope is to do as much original material as we can. If we do something that is based on a pre-existing work, our goal is to adapt it to our own style, not just stage it.  -

AL: What are your plans for the future? 

AL: We have two other shows in 2013 that we have scheduled. We have one that we’re developing right now called Intoxico, which will open at the Bard’s Town and will run two Fridays, January 4th and 11th. It’s what we refer to as a live drinking game show. We’re still in the developmental stages of it. It’s another one that is highly interactive, and a little extreme. It’s going to be a lot more fun and upbeat than Biography – more ambitious. We’re very excited about doing it and we’re very excited about getting everyone to see it because there’s not really a whole lot around Louisville that’s like this. We want to encourage more of it and definitely gain some support for the experimental form.


Biography of a Physical Sensation

Because each show has only 18 seats available, seating is very limited. Please reserve early.

September 21, 22, 28, 29 @ 7:30 p.m.
Highland Green Discovery Center
1401 Bardstown Road
Tickets:  $10.00

Originally conceived by Matt Hislope and Josh Meyer
Adapted and directed by Jon Becraft and Kelli Fitzgibbon

Based on the life of Lydia Lovell

Theatre Information:
Baby Horse Theatre Group
1106 Poplar Level Plaza
Louisville, KY 40217
502-686-0547


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