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Genuinely Engaged 

The debut show in LTW's drastically revamped Etcetera series is grand in its simplicity

You usually don't realize that you work hard when you attend the theater, but you do. To make theater, there is always "audience participation," a phrase that strikes fear—or even contempt—in the hearts of many.

Actually, we like it that way. It's probably one of the most attractive aspects of theater. It may seem like the actors, writers and technical folks are doing all the work. But even sitting in our mostly silent group, we engage our brains, our senses, our emotions. We may feel like sponges, merely soaking everything in, but we are busy, busy, busy—processing information, assessing, doubting, wondering, laughing, judging. And, damn, if that doesn't make us part of the creative process, I don't know what would. In fact, we are integral to the process. Without an audience, what happens onstage is essentially the sound of one hand clapping.

Etcetera, the late-night group associated with Live Theatre Workshop, has evolved—organizationally, at least—in a rather confusing way. It is currently presenting MixTape, labeled "A Theater 3 original production," and it looks like Theatre 3 will create the works for which Etcetera is listed as the producer throughout its season. Also, the shows are not performed in a late time slot.

Whatever. What is clear is that the whole look and feel of the Etcetera experience has undergone an extreme makeover.

The talented and creative approach of Matt Walley and Angela Horchem, the forces behind this new venture, was unveiled last weekend, and there is no doubt that something unusual, fresh, challenging and entertaining has been introduced into our already-thriving theater community. If they can sustain the energy, originality and heart that are displayed with this inaugural piece, Theater 3 will quickly establish a fan base here, even though—or actually because—it asks us in ways a little more obvious than usual to do some theatergoer chores.

Walley and Horcham are graduates of the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre, where they received training to "make original work based on the power of the actor in the empty space," according to the school's website. This includes the use of masks and the tradition of the clown. In Tucson, they have been Rogue Theatre regulars, bringing a captivating brand of physicality to the Rogue's often-unusual approach to traditionally scripted texts. As Theatre 3, they have teamed with composer and pianist Michael Martinez to create MixTape, a 90-minute series of original short works. Some feature Walley; others feature Horchem; a couple feature the duo; Martinez's influence is felt throughout. All feature wonderfully creative and skilled work.

The result is a whole lot of fun.

Walley, in the dress and demeanor of a traditional clown (don't worry; this is no birthday-party-like thing), gets us started as he gradually—and with difficulty—drags a large trunk onto the stage from the lobby. He first encounters a problem because there's no room for the trunk to pass; some members of the audience are in the way. With no words, he kindly persuades them to get up from their seats and give him room. Then, because the trunk is heavy, he enlists a young man from the audience to help get it up the small step onto the stage. As our representatives, these folks have sealed the contract that will commit our engagement for the next 90 minutes. The stage is empty, except for Walley and his trunk, but we are now part of the conspiracy.

Walley's focused yet thoroughly gentle presence not only fills the stage, but the room. His energy invites ours in a way we cannot deny. He is irresistible. His actions are simple, creative and funny, but our discoveries and attention are profound as we invest ourselves more deeply into the world he creates. This is not improvisation, but it is organic, and we are a part of it.

It's really impossible to try to describe what actions occur onstage without the risk of saying too much or too little. MixTape is not really about anything, but it feels like it holds the potential for everything. There's no plot, but there is story. It's an experience, and it takes not only the players' work, but also ours to create it.

Horchem is the more athletic of the two, and she inhabits space much differently than Walley. Often, she is much more abstract, but she is no less compelling, and she still quietly confirms that we are participants without, of course, our lifting a muscle. She discovers more personas than Walley; she also makes use of some beautifully crafted masks.

Some pieces are more successful than others. In particular, a couple of Horchem's segments go on a bit too long. At a moment or two, my attention wandered, and that powerful connection of performer and audience was interrupted. I fell down on the job, but I think I was nudged.

The skills these two command, and how much respect they show for us, is quite amazing. And Martinez, who is also the executive director of LTW, contributes a strong but unobtrusive presence without which the production would be so much less.

In its simplicity, it is grand. In its creativity, it is a pleasure. As a joint venture—because Walley and Horchem engage so genuinely with us—Theatre 3's MixTape rocks.

More by Sherilyn Forrester

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