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Theatre Preview: Available Light Theatre’s 10th Season

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Preview: Available Light Theatre’s 10th SeasonPhotos by Matt Slaybaugh.
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Since its inception, Available Light Theatre (AVLT) has been the kind of company that drives the conversation in town. They’ve brought exciting plays from New York like The Thugs by Adam Bock, Dead City by Sheila Callaghan, God’s Ear by Jenny Schwartz, Church by Young Jean Lee, and The Internationalist by Anne Washburn. They’ve brought cutting edge work from Louisville’s Humana Festival, like Charles L. Mee’s bobrauschenbergamerica, Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On, and this season’s She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen and The Christians by Lucas Hnath.

Available Light also reached to farther-flung regions for work, like Marin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, and introduced Ohio to Sean Christopher Lewis’s Killadelphia, Just Kids, and Dogs of Rwanda well before Lewis was a commentator on NPR or selling out theaters in New York and Europe. They’ve adapted contemporary novels that seemed to defy adaptation like Down and Out in the Magic KingdomHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseSkyscrapers of the Midwest, and Leaving the Atocha Station, and have done it with jaw-dropping deftness. They’ve thrown new light on classic work, whether through new spins like their “radical adaptations” of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and this season’s Don Quixote, or just brilliant productions like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along.

Available Light have done fascinating original work like Stop Sign [language] by Eleni Papaleonardos and The Absurdity of Writing Poetry by Matt Slaybaugh. They’ve brought the theatrical community together, most recently for this year’s 24 Hour Theatre. And they’ve given brand new plays a chance to get crucial feedback and see how they bounce off an audience in nascent stages with their annual Next Stage Initiative.

As they enter their 10th season in 2015-2016, Available Light Theatre find themselves at a crossroads, where some looking back and raising a glass is appropriate, but they’re keeping a steady eye on the future. First up in readying themselves for the future is some infrastructure changes. Less obvious – but an immediate change for those of us who subscribed to their seasons, wrote about them, read their email updates, reserved tickets or had customer service dealings — Michelle Whited is stepping down as Office Manager.

“It’s a pivotal moment for me and for Available Light, and an opportune time to make a transition,” said Whited. “I’m so thankful for all the lessons learned from AVLT, for Matt’s leadership, and for my company member brothers and sisters… I can’t wait to see them grow for years to come.”

As she exits, company members David J. Glover, Michelle G. Schroeder, and Elena M. Perantoni are stepping up to take on more back office duties and provide the company a wider base and more logistical flexibility.

A bigger change from an artistic standpoint is the naming of Papaleonardos as additional Artistic Director, a title she and Slaybaugh will share going forward.

“The company and the art… has constantly fed and inspired me and been my artistic home since I returned to Ohio in 2006/2007,” said Papaleonardos. “Matt and I have been longtime collaborators, and I’m excited that our next collaboration is the future of AVLT.”

Papaleonardos has been with the company since its inception and has been a key player as writer, director, and actor so it’s exciting to see what this blending of visions creates going forward.

The first wave of that blended vision is their 10th season, unveiled at a party on May 28th. The 2015-2016 season features three full (multi-week) productions and a full slate of additional work to keep Columbus’s theatregoers well-sated.

The first play is still being finalized but Slaybaugh discussed the contenders with me and advised it will be “the epitome of AVLT,” It will run in September, final dates to be announced.

The second will be a “radical adaptation” of James Joyce’s classic Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, to be written and directed by Slaybaugh. This work touches on one of Available Light’s principal themes: what makes someone create art and what part art plays in living. This is still being developed, but Slaybaugh let on that the current plan is for the protagonist, Stephen Daedalus, to be played by multiple actors, and the adaptation process uses ideas developed during the adapting of Don Quixote. This is scheduled for winter, final dates to be announced.

The final full production of the 2015-2016 season is an original work as yet untitled, to be directed by Papaleonardos, featuring the collaborative energy of the entire AVLT company. Slaybaugh described this as dealing with the question of “What does it mean to have a body?” in this day and age when so much of what we do seems disconnected from it, and how a person stays present and finds joy in their physical existence. It is scheduled for spring 2016.

Between these productions, AVLT will keep busy with limited runs. They are resurrecting their sold-out 24 Hour Theatre from last season, making an annual tradition of something with a long history in Columbus that hadn’t been attempted in a while. Artists from all over the Columbus scene and the aesthetic spectrum will come together to create a brand new work from idea to staging in just 24 hours. They continue their Next Stage Initiative – from this writer’s point of view the best way to get a taste of brand new theatre in town – a mix of readings of plays under consideration and workshops of brand new plays that haven’t been aired with an audience yet. And they will introduce One Night with Available Light – four one-night staged readings of plays that inspired the company, interspersed throughout the season. The specific plays will be announced at a later date but they are expected to include influential but rarely performed (in Columbus) writers like Lanford Wilson, Cherríe Moraga, and Athol Fugard.

Outside of their “regular” season, Available Light intend to perform their hit Pride and Prejudice around the outerbelt at venues to be announced later, and tour this season’s Quixote: A Pilgrimage through the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps most excitingly, Available Light are turning to the community for a year-long development project. One of the things the company is most known for is their tackling of big ideas – the economy in both Dirty Maths, nutrition and ecology in The Food Play, friendship in Glue – and this is their most expansive project yet. Over a year, AVLT want to map the fabric of the city: trend-setters, entrepreneurs, artists, people on the street. As Slaybaugh said, they’re looking at Columbus as a whole and, more than that, at how someone makes meaning in his or her life, “what really ties people together and what keeps them apart in a city like Columbus.” This will be an intensive year of acquiring material and crafting with an eye toward a premiere in the 2016-2017 season.

The Kickstarter goal is $30,000 to fund the new staff positions, new programs, and principally the dream project described above. To back this Kickstarter or for more information, CLICK HERE (full disclosure: this writer was filmed for the video in the Kickstarter).

For more information about the season and the company in general, visit www.avltheatre.com.


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The biggest brunch festival in Columbus returns! Join us on Friday, April 20th for the ALL THINGS BRUNCH Festival and taste your way through the best sweet and savory brunch menus that Columbus has to offer! Limited tickets are available and are likely to sell out in advance: