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Thursday, May 14, 2015

East Bay Theater Troupe Agile Rascal Kicks off National Tour — By Bike!

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2015 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge AGILE RASCAL
  • Agile Rascal

Writing and producing a play requires sweat and sacrifice in even the cushiest of conditions: hours of daily rehearsal, endless revisions, personality conflicts between a sleep-deprived cast and crew. But taking a play on the road, performing it in cities from San Francisco to New York over three months, traveling entirely by bicycle?

Agile Rascal, an East Bay theater troupe, will attempt the feat this summer, after debut performances at Sports Basement in San Francisco on Friday, May 15, and the Omni Commons in Oakland on Saturday, May 16. A week later, the seven members will dip their back wheels into the Pacific Ocean and set off for L.A. , the first stop on a 105-day, 16-show journey across the country. They will average 300-400 miles of travel a week, staying mainly in campgrounds or the backyards of their friends and supporters.

When playwright and founder Dara Silverman first conceived of the idea of biking a play across the country, she already had a network of theater friends and a network of cyclist friends. She soon realized, however, that even in the bike-friendly Bay, the two worlds don't generally overlap.

She set out to find a group of performers interested in tackling an intense physical adventure and some heavy subject matter — namely the “intersection of capitalism, technology, and spirituality” and the ways in which the three affect our relationships with the environment and each other. It began with four performers meeting in a library basement, developing scenes and characters through games and improv, which they slowly honed and refined into a narrative structure. By March, she had seven committed members and a working script, Sunlight On the Brink, a post-apocalyptic comedy set in the Southwest after California's water supply has become so scarce that it's sparked a mass migration to the East Coast. The play's action centers around a gas station attendant who realizes he's been abandoned in the middle of the desert, a child who was left in his keep, and a scientist who runs out of gas near the station while transporting a mysterious biological specimen which may be the last of its kind.

“It's really framing the idea of how we navigate this kind of end time of humanity,” said troupe member Allison Fenner. “As in, what is the way to gracefully step back as this really monopolizing species.”

While the play does have a bit of an absurdist flair, Silverman believes the script is very accessible, even for audience members who might not be regular theatre-goers.

“We wanted to have a show we could pop up in small towns or campgrounds, something with a clear narrative, that wasn't avant-garde,” she said. “We didn't want to be speaking only to other theater people or other writers.”

While the tour will include a few theaters, most performances will take place in alternative venues like community centers, bike shops, art houses, and a few farms. The troupe has created a collapsable set and will travel with a minimal sound and lighting rig which includes the use of extra-bright bike lights.

“The whole thing has been such a huge learning experience on how to create something this big, bigger than we realized,” said Fenner. “Normally when I do a play, I show up and a lot of people tell me what to do and I learn the lines, but with this, the actors are the set builders and the writers. We are really doing everything ourselves.”

And what will be their reward for those months of preparation and planning? The journey itself, of course — the chance to take three months off from their normal day-to-day routines and spend them outside, riding bikes.

“Your sense of time and space shift when you step away from your life,” Silverman explained. “We're used to imagining space in terms of cars, where 60 hours is one mile, not a day, so when that shift happens inside of you, it's pretty powerful. I'm hoping the biking creates an openness in us that allows us to really look at the work more deeply.”

Agile Rascal's Sunlight on the Brink, Friday, May 15, at 7 p.m., at Sports Basement, 1590 Bryant, San Francisco, 415-575-3000, and at the Omni Commons, 4799 Shattuck Ave., Oakland, Saturday, May 16 at 8 p.m. Both performances are pay-what-you-can. 

click to enlarge AGILE RASCAL
  • Agile Rascal

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Jessi Phillips


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