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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 of 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 belts and of 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.
Video by Evie Carpenter.
"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 why Orange Theatre, with such pieces as 2013's Blood Wedding, produces its shows over extended periods of time, sometimes months, allowing audiences to witness it at different stages of completion.
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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."
Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.