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Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin

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Immersive Theater has existed on the fringes of more traditional plays and musicals for many years. But the number of successful and truly inventive productions has greatly increased in the last quarter century. I certainly enjoyed watching the actors cooks a frittata during the local production of Tamara at the American Legion Hall, but I was underwhelmed by New York’s long-running production of Sleep No More. (Somehow, I always seemed to round the corner just as a juicy scene finished and everyone was moving on.)

Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin is immediately intriguing due to the creative collaboration between East West Players and the Rogue Artists Ensemble. The fact that it is inspired by Japanese ghost stories is also a refreshing antidote to the butcher knives and chainsaws being nightly unleashed at Universal Studios and Knott's Berry Farm.

Ticket holders receive a letter from the employees at the Mori Storage Company urging them to visit a midtown address in the hopes of solving the mystery of the disappearance of Kana Mori, the owner of the company. Once you arrive (and sign your waiver), 12 people at a time are ushered into the lobby of the building where three employees tell disjointed stories about the building’s history and their missing employer as the lights occasionally malfunction.

A visit to Kana’s office reveals that an unhealthy obsession had taken her over prior to her disappearance. Suddenly the lights go out, and the friendly employee runs off. The group is then herded onto a creaky freight elevator and shuttled to the darkness of the fifth floor.

From there, the eerie adventure unfurls as you are led through dark hallways into intricately devised rooms where fragments of a story are revealed. Kana (an anguished and indefatigable performance by Jolene Kim in the performance I attended) eventually appears and becomes your guide as she attempts to break the spell of the evil fox spirit who is haunting the building. Along the way, you may find yourself at the bottom of a well, or having tea with an ax murderer.

The potent visuals come from the unique collaboration of artists and disciplines which the Rogue Artists Ensemble has perfected over the years. They include Keith Mitchell and Dillon Nelson’s scenic design,  Karyn Lawrence’s lighting design, Matthew Hill’s video contributions, and the all-important puppet and mask designs by Sean Cawelti, Jack Pullman, and Brian White. The images are greatly enhanced by the sound design by Steve Swift and Gilly Moon as well as the work of composer Adrien Prevost.

In a production as complex as this, directorial choices may favor the logistical over the artistic. But director Cawelti’s fertile imagination is always visible. Working closely with his playwrights, Lisa Dring and Chelsea Sutton, Cawelti sculpts a carefully devised expedition into the unknown. Filled with contrasts: light vs dark, noise vs silence, individual vs group, Cawelti always keeps you slightly off-kilter.

Traversing the corridors of Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin is a singular theatrical experience. It is one that is decidedly more atmospheric than aggressively gruesome. Unlike some immersive experiences which compel their audience, the feeling in this production is always one of invitation. I suggest you accept.

Secret Midtown Location    October 13 – November 5, 2017    www.rogueartists.org

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.