A few chosen actors in Grand Rapids will take part in a series of one-person performances of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit at Actors’ Theatre this month. The catch: They don’t get to see the script until opening night.
Because of the nature of the show, Actors’ Theatre Executive Director Kyle Los couldn’t say as much about the plot as he could about the experience that the actors and audience go through together.
“It’s a healthy experience for us as performers and the audience,” Los said. “As much as it’s the author, Nassim, telling his story and his experience, it’s also kind of a love story to the uniqueness that is theater, because it’s a living, breathing experience.”
Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour wrote White Rabbit, Red Rabbit in 2010, with the first performance taking place in 2011. It has been performed all over the world and has been translated into nearly 30 languages.
“And one of the unique things about this piece is that the reason it’s been done this way and used this form, is because the author … refused to be a part of the military, (so) he’s not allowed to leave the country,” Los said. “And so he thought, ‘Well, if I can’t leave the country, then my script is going to leave without me and going to go do its thing.’”
Los said the show’s main theme is about obedience — to an idea, a person, object or place — and that theme resonates on many levels beyond the script.
“The actor needs to be obedient to the script, because they’ve never experienced it before,” Los said. “They don’t have time to alter it or think about it — they are experiencing it at that moment for the first time, and the audience is as well.”
Every night of performances will be different, with a fresh actor taking the stage.
“It’s never truly exactly the same,” Los said. “And I think this emphasizes that unique thing that is completely different from anything we see onscreen.”
The actors are excited to brave the unknown with this special performance.
“Theater is dangerous,” said Randy Wyatt, local playwright, director and professor at Aquinas College. “It’s discovery. Being able to be in the moment of discovery and have the audience be right there with you is pretty thrilling.”
Wyatt has the unique position of being the last one to perform, and he said it’s difficult to go in not knowing anything about the script or the author at all.
“Everyone else can come see me discover this piece moment by moment and have the chance to see it before me,” said Wyatt, who performs Feb. 24. “So that’s quite an inversion of the usual mechanics behind a performance.”
Amy McFadden, performing Feb. 16, said she will focus more on telling the story and less on the quality of her performance.
“I am, more than ever, simply a delivery system for Nassim’s story,” McFadden said. “It’s almost as if anyone in the theater that night could be handed the script to read — we’re all in it together, for the first and only time.”
The stage will be in the rehearsal room of Spectrum Theater, a smaller, more vulnerable place for the performer.
“That rehearsal space is like our special, safe place,” Los said, adding, “It needs to be a safe space to fail.”
The performer will be introduced by someone, and then have the stage to themselves, along with a stand, the manuscript and a water bottle. Someone will be taking notes on the performance and audience reaction, which will ultimately get sent back to the author and publishers for feedback.
Joe Anderson, performing Feb. 22, has years of improv experience and said he’s excited for the challenge.
“Something about improv and doing it so long and with so many people and in so many different places has encouraged me to embrace the unknown,” Anderson said. “When I go onstage on my night and they drop this script into my hands that I’ve never seen and have literally no idea about, I’m going to be okay. Lots of things might and could happen, but this is what I love doing, and I’m going to be okay.”
Los is excited to be able to offer a wholesome, raw experience for both the actors and the audience.
“It’s just healthy to be with a group of people and listening to stories, laughing and thinking as a community,” Los said. “This allows us to be in a small space, sharing a story, which is one of the most basic forms of human interaction and communication.”
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids
160 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids
Feb. 14-24, 8 p.m., $20
Feb. 14: Jon Clausen
Feb. 15: Laura Walczak
Feb. 16: Amy McFadden
Feb. 17: Greg Rogers
Feb. 21: Jolene Frankey
Feb. 22: Joe Anderson
Feb. 23: Todd Lewis
Feb. 24: Randy Wyatt