I'm going to bookmark this article to send to people who think Phoenix is nothing but tired retirees, soulless suburban sprawl, and right-wing politicians. Lots of innovation going on in America's sixth-largest and fastest-growing city.
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Orange Theatre | Performing Art
Describing Orange Theatre is a bit difficult.
"It's cross-disciplinary," says artistic director Matt Watkins. "It's multimedia. It incorporates film and TV. It incorporates computers, technology, the Internet, dance, visual art . . ."
Orange Theatre can't be confined to a single genre of theater — or even a single space, for that matter. The troupe had lacked a permanent home for rehearsals and performances up until April 1, when it announced via Facebook that it had finally found a new downtown Phoenix home off Grand Avenue at 1711 West Culver Street, suite 15.
Moving from place to place is nothing new for the experimental theater group, which evolved from a small ASU play-reading group on Tempe's Orange Street. Facing the financial challenges of being a not-for-profit but not tax-exempt organization, Orange has relied heavily on grants to fund its shows and the generosity of business owners for places to practice and perform them. The troupe has performed at various spaces, including Bragg's Pie Factory and Levine Machine. They currently practice at the Phoenix Center for the Arts and plan to move to their new space in May.
"I don't think we ever really sat down and said, 'Let's start a theater company,'" says Watkins, who unintentionally founded Orange Theatre with his thesis production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.
With years of play production under their collective belts and all of the seven-person team working other jobs to pay the bills (both Watkins and technical director Steve Christensen work at other theaters), Orange Theatre has become their sole avenue for performing theater that interests them: the kind that's more about the act of performing in the present moment.
"We try and draw on what's happening in the room right now and to make it more about the interaction," Watkins says.
The result, Watkins says, is that the theater becomes "more about the music, about the sound of the piece, the shape of the piece, the tension that you create, the volume. It becomes more like a sculpture or a painting. It becomes about the colors and the movement. It becomes more like a dance. It becomes about how you move and at what tempo. And how fast do you speak your lines? And with what feeling behind it? And you can appreciate those things as notes in a song or as shades in a painting, and that exists simultaneously with whatever elements of narrative we weave into the piece."
That narrative, incidentally, isn't always set in stone. "What we want you to see when you see an Orange show is us in the process of asking the questions and trying to sort of answer them," Watkins says. "And maybe we don't. And we want that to be okay."
That's one of the reasons Orange Theatre, with such pieces as the still-evolving Blood Wedding (presented in part in 2013), produces shows over extended periods of time, sometimes months, allowing audiences to witness them at different stages of completion.
All Orange shows are presented on a pay-what-you-can basis, which doesn't exactly bring in the big bucks, but it does keep them afloat. "The company has to stay in the black in order to exist," Watkins says. "But is the goal to make money? No. Making money is how we continue to exist in the world. The goal is to make the work. The goal is to sustain the company, to sustain the relationships, to contribute to the community, to contribute to art and theater, to preserve live performance as an art form for the future." — Katie Johnson
Kristopher Pourzal | Performing Art
Kristopher Pourzal has an expressive personality. He talks with his hands, deliberate motions to illustrate his stories while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the Nelson Fine Arts Center in Tempe. The large practice room is empty, save for a grand piano and a handful of chairs lined against the wall where Pourzal sits, barefoot, dressed in light layers for optimal movement.
When he dances, which he will shortly, the room remains silent save for his sharp breathing. He stares ahead, always ahead, even while rolling on the floor. Even when his arms and legs seem to flail and move separately from his body. When he finishes, the space seems to deflate, emptied of energy. He walks the lengths of it, hands on his hips, and catches his breath.
When he dances, he says, "those are the moments when I understand why I'm here, in a meta sense."
Born and raised in Falls Church, Virginia, Pourzal got his undergraduate degree from James Madison University. His background was in theater and music. He originally studied music education, practicing the flute upward of 18 hours a day because, as he says, performing was always an interest to him. Performance, he says repeatedly, before everything.
"It's an excitement. An energy. There's something about this concentrated work toward this thing that gets to be seen," he says. "It's an invitation to be seen."
It wasn't until halfway through his collegiate career that he discovered dance. After taking an improvisation course, he fell in love with the liberation he got from the movement and asked his professor how he could continue to do this.