POSTED ON MAY 8, 2013:
There's always something mischievous afoot at the Nightingale. Tulsa's coolest and hardest-to-park-at theatrical venue -- located at 1416 E. 4th St. -- has given us weird plays, Old Crow Confessions, burlesque shows, you name it. On deck now is Clean, a show assembled by a group of Nightingale inhabitants calling themselves 50 Swats.
"It's a writers ensemble/collective/hive that focuses on short-form theater pieces," said John Cruncleton, the artistic director of the Nightingale. "'Hive' is the word we use the most."
And then he used a word that this particular English major wasn't all that familiar with.
"We'll take an anonymous dramaturge and make them the queen," he said. Queen of the hive, that is. Get it? "And the dramaturge sort of guides what we're doing."
The group gets a thematic assignment, and members submit work to the queen's anonymized email address. From there, the queen works as a curator of sorts for the show that begins to form.
"The office of queen is intended to serve as an editor and a clearinghouse of ideas, as well as an inspiration for some spark for the writers' approach," Cruncleton said. "We pass the title around, and we've had some pretty elaborate projects, and some pretty casual ones. It's been approached in different ways over the years."
One of the most striking things about how 50 Swats operates is the anonymous nature of the title of queen.
"The first show we did was called Old-Fashioned Poison Candy," Cruncleton recalled. "We were just kind of getting started on it and figuring out how to deal with this."
The idea of comments and critiques coming from an anonymous source was a way to shield the egos of the writers, among other reasons.
"In a workshop, you can squash out some of a writer's punk elements and everything ends up being really polished," he said. "I feel like a lot of times, an artist's quirks or rough edges are the reason you like that artist. But in a workshop, you might end up with a nice crafty piece of work, but we want something that's got punch and flavor and rawness to it."
But in addition to getting what Cruncleton feels is a purer product, there's a pragmatic reasoning involved, as well.
"We decided on using this idea of an anonymous editor so we wouldn't have a bunch of people sitting around bitching about each other's work," he said. "We did it to avoid over-homogenization of the material. And then we realized how much fun it is to utilize that, and it becomes a kind of theater for the writers." Most of them correspond with the queen through some assumed persona.
Yeah, these people are nuts.
Although the process of coming up with a 50 Swats show is pretty much in place, Clean has ended up being quite a different show than what normally comes out.
"Usually, we'll build a show around a theme," Cruncleton said. "In the past, 50 Swats has always been focused on producing standalone pieces. We were really playing around with short-form writing."
During the creation of Clean, Cruncleton said one thing shook out a bit differently.
"We ended up with this stew of all these fragments," he said. "They aren't any of them standalone pieces, but we found there was a story inherent in all this fragmentary material. We've never done it that way before. We've created a narrative that forms a definitive frame for the thematic material."
Kind of like writing the music to a song before writing the lyrics. At least I think that's what he meant.
"It's still short-form in the sense that it's vignettes," he said. "We've actually got more small pieces than we usually do. The average 50 Swats piece is about 10-12 minutes, but these are averaging 3-5 minutes."
And that makes for a boatload of set changes, which Cruncleton enjoys.
"There's a bit of athleticism in all these transitions," he admitted. "I really enjoy trying to create a flow in these shows and exploit the transitions to connect everything. So there's video, and we'll have live music throughout the show. It's almost like an amusement ride."
The resulting show tells the tale of a woman with a degenerative disorder, losing her ability to think clearly and pursuing an alternative, experimental (how appropriate) treatment.
"That sounds heavy, and it is sometimes, but it's also got funny and punchy elements to it," Cruncleton said. We expect nothing less from the Nightingale, a troupe I privately think of as the Neil Armstrongs of the Tulsa theater scene.
This adults-only escapade opens Friday, May 10 at 8pm and runs Fridays and Saturdays through May 25. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Laugh It Up
If there's one thing that Heller Theatre does, it's stay consistent. This bunch, under Julie Tattershall's able direction, puts on quality material time after time.
This weekend, Tattershall and friends present Laughing Matter Weekend, a generation-spanning cluster of comedy improv shows.
What's most intriguing, though, is the specific groups involved. There's a Laughing Matter show featuring the adult members of the troupe. There's one with teenagers. And Frank Gallagher -- technical director at the Henthorne PAC -- leads the first evening of the weekend with an improv team made of pre-teen actors.
"It's going to be pretty similar to the other improv shows," he said. "The great thing about the younger kids is they're not too cool for school yet. They have a natural exuberance, and they say whatever is on their minds, as opposed to censoring themselves. It's just spontaneous. It's a blast. It's some of the most creative work I see."
Each night will be an evening of what Tattershall calls short-form improv.
"Scenes last about four minutes or so with the audience giving us something to work with," she said. "Short-form is very participatory with the audience."
So go catch one of these shows. Or all of them. You'll laugh, and you'll get to participate in the evening.
Laughing Matter Weekend plays Thursday through Saturday, May 9-11, at 7:30pm at the Henthorne Performing Arts Center at 4825 South Quaker Ave. The pre-teen cast performs Thursday, the adult group Friday, and the teen cast closes the weekend on Saturday. Tickets are $5 at the door.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Arts Experienced to email@example.com.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A59772