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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

In/Visible Theatre invites you to come and see

In/Visible Theatre holds its Dance Project in downtown Boone, North Carolina in October. (photo by Kristen Espinoza)
In/Visible Theatre holds its Dance Project in downtown Boone, North Carolina in October. (photo by Kristen Espinoza)
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By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | September 30, 2017

In/Visible Theatre in Boone, North Carolina, is the brainchild of Karen Sabo and Derek Davidson, both formerly of Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia.

"We started In/Visible Theatre because we couldn't find the theater we had envisioned.If we could have found it, we would have just applied and auditioned and volunteered there until they hired us, but we had something really specific in mind, and since we couldn't find it, we realized we had to make it.We wanted a theater that always honored high literary quality because the script is the blueprint of the play, and if the blueprint is weak, the production will never be strong. And we wanted a place where we could always experiment and do projects we're passionate about.

"Lots of good theaters experiment with aspects of their producing, but we wanted to do some major experiments, so that we could mess with the whole structure of non-profit theatres.In order to only do plays we're passionate about and help us have a substantive dialogue with our community, that means we have to do fewer plays than most theaters. Because a lot of theaters schedule a few plays they love, and then some they don't love because they just need people to buy tickets.

"We're about to start our first social enterprise project, where we have a for-profit endeavor under the umbrella of our non-profit, and if we can make it work, that profit will go to support our artistic work. We'd like to have a few diversified social enterprise projects, and that sense of experimentation supports the artistic experimentation that we do," Sabo, co-founder and producing director, says.

Their first show was "Bumbershoot," by co-founder and Artistic Director Derek Davidson. They produced it for the New York International Fringe Festival in 2012.

"Our friend and former Barter colleague, Mike Ostroski, who some may remember from his 10-year stint acting at Barter, called us up and said he wanted to participate in the New York Fringe. So he proposed that we enter a show, and he said he'd enter one, and we each did. He's very proactive, so he cast his show and found a stage manager, and we did none of that because we figured we wouldn't get in. So of course, as these things go, our show happened to be the one that got accepted. So we scrambled to fundraise, cast, find housing in New York City for 11 people and produce this very first show. We were really pleased to get a mention in the Wall Street Journal, and to have the show chosen as one of the "Best of the Fest' that year. It was e-published, and is a great script. It was a really strong production, and that got us started," she says.

IndieTheatre describes the play as "a neo-noir amalgam of dark and really dark, weirdo-humor and sudden violence that offers up a meditation on just how banal the banality of evil can be, on how good people-or ordinary, not-so-good people-can do very, very bad things."

In/Visible Theatre believes in constantly innovating artistically, and they are applying that to producing as well.In the five years they've been around, they have produced only two shows that were already published.

"The most recent show we did that was published was Lucas Hnath's play"The Christians,'which is getting very widely produced, but we did that differently, too. Unlike every other theater that's done that new play, instead of building a set that looked like a church and doing the play in a theater, our venues were churches themselves.We performed in five very different churches around our county, and got to develop some new audience members from those congregations who hadn't been to one of In/Visible's plays before," Sabo says.

Sabo and Davidson's focus on connecting theater to place is carried through in their plans to do pop-up plays more often. When they have a pop-up play, they keep the location secret until they lead the audience to the site-specific spot where they stage a new 10-minute play.

"This is a fun way to show off our great downtown in Boone and help people see new spaces they hadn't been to yet, or see spaces they think they know in a new way," Sabo says.

Even when they do what seems like a traditional play in a traditional theater, those plays are not always relevant and timely, but often examine the form of theater itself. Their summer 2016 show Davidson's"Mauzy,"for instance, was an Appalachian update of a 500-year-old Japanese Noh play, and "while it told a compelling story, it also examined how we tell stories. We're always going to do compelling, high-quality, cutting-edge, community-building work," she says.

In/Visible Theatre doesn't have its own theater yet, so it uses various locations.Sabo says that that will continue; even after they get the studio theater they eventually want or when the Appalachian Theatre, Boone's downtown Art Deco theater, is renovated.

"We'll always do a few projects each year that are site-specific, because we're very connected to place.We're looking forward to being one of the users of the Appalachian Theatre, where we'll stage some of our large projects, but even those are place based. Our first three shows we want to do there are all based on films, because that building was just for film for much of its life as an important community gathering place," she says.

Davidson is In/Visible Theatre's resident playwright and creates some of their work. They have also had some plays commissioned by An Appalachian Summer Festival, Appalachian State University's international performing arts event. Davidson has found a few short plays from his playwriting class at Appalachian State that they've used for their pop-up plays. They also commissioned a 10-minute musical from an Appalachian State alum for a future pop-up play.
They carry their creativity through to fundraising. In addition to donors and grants, they're exploring the idea of having a membership where artists create special weekly online content in a sort of e-magazine with videos."It'll have members-only access, and also have the potential to get supporters all over the country, who we hope will travel to Boone to see some of our live shows, or who will support us when we have a capital campaign to get our own studio theater. We're also excited about pursuing some social enterprise projects, starting with "Performing Excellence,' our customer-service training program based on the principles of acting.

They are planning their first fundraising gala, which will be held in an unusual place: the rock-climbing gym. It will feature performances, including a dance choreographed to be performed on and off the climbing wall.
"It's an exciting time. We're figuring out how to make a new model of American theater.It's all an experiment, both artistically and in terms of producing.Some of it will work and some of it won't, but artistically, our shows are always strong, engaging and pertinent.That's the whole point, after all,' Sabo says.
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THERE'S MORE: Upcoming events at In/Visible Theatre

Lydia Congdon is playing a sassy 1940s ticket seller in the ticket booth of the currently-being-renovated Art Deco Appalachian Theatre in downtown Boone. She will do this again in September, during the First Friday downtown Boone Art Crawl. Karen