'Shipwrecked' in India

The Rogue Theatre takes its show on the road—to the other side of the world

If you were a theater like, say, the Rogue Theatre here in Tucson, and you were going on a grand adventure to the other side of the world to perform a show, what kind of play would you do?

An adventure story, of course!

Last week, four members of the Rogue—Cynthia Meier, Joseph McGrath, Patty Gallagher and David Morden—gathered their playmaking belongings and headed to Bangalore, India. There they will remain for three weeks at the brand-new Jagriti Theater, presenting a total of 18 performances of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself).

Donald Margulies' charming piece was a delightful part of Rogue's lineup last season. (See "Truth Through Story," Jan. 12.) Playful and inventive, the show requires little in the way of a set, making it quite portable. It does require a great effort from its director and cast to create the magical and fantastical world of Louis de Rougemont. But that travels easily.

So how did Rogue's big adventure in India come to be?

"It all came about in a wonderfully accidental way," recalls Meier, Rogue's managing and associate artistic director, and the director of Shipwrecked!

In 2008, the Rogue produced Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. It featured Gallagher, who teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the show traveled there for a brief run. A friend of Gallagher, Chandran Sankaran, a passionate and knowledgeable theater supporter, declared that the piece should be seen in Bangalore, his native city, and he set out to help make that happen. He and a friend served as producers, finding a space, doing the marketing and handling other logistics.

In December 2009, McGrath and Gallagher traveled to Bangalore and performed Happy Days for three nearly sold-out performances.

"The audiences were incredibly sophisticated," Gallagher says. "There were people in the audience who had seen the original production of Happy Days in Paris. A Beckett play sold out for all performances in a 300-seat theater—wow."

A couple of years later, Sankaran and his family moved back to Bangalore, and he joined the board of directors of the new Jagriti Theatre, whose vision, according to its website, is "to professionalise English language theatre in India." For the inaugural season, the company is producing four plays, and is bringing in two outside groups: the Actors Touring Company, from Great Britain, and the Rogue.

Although the Rogue is not being paid for their efforts, Jagriti is covering the $11,500 for travel and lodging. How could they not embrace this happily accidental adventure?

The collaboration of Meier and Gallagher at the Rogue also began as a happy accident.

"We met 30 years ago when she was an undergraduate at the UA, and I was in graduate school there," Meier says. "We kept in and out of contact, but one day when Joe (McGrath, Rogue's artistic director) and I were having lunch at The Cup at Hotel Congress, Patty and her husband walked in. They were visiting from California, so it was a total surprise. We were just planning our first season, and we all sat and had a long talk. Later, I went to see a show in California she had directed for the New Pickle Circus, and decided we wanted her to audition. The first play she did with us was (Bertolt Brecht's) The Good Woman of Setzuan."

That led to her becoming a Rogue regular.

Gallagher's work with the Rogue is an adventure itself. Her home is in the Bay Area, and she teaches in Santa Cruz. She works with the school so that her classes are scheduled in the early part of the week, and she flies to Tucson late Wednesday or early Thursday so that she can perform (or make rehearsals prior to a show's run). "It's a crazy life on both ends, but I love it," she says.

Gallagher, a former Fulbright scholar, has a doctorate in feminist theory and theater from the University of Wisconsin. While living in Ecuador, where her husband had been transferred, she began studying movement and realized that, yes, she was a scholar, but "I needed to be an artist, too. I had not really gone off on the wrong track, but my experiences in Ecuador clarified my direction."

That direction led her to the art of the clown. "Not the painted-face-and-big-shoes variety—they scare me to death. I am more attracted to clown characters that aren't 'cool.' You really have only your body and your vulnerability, and your job is to look through a lens of wonder to help us see what is funny and heartbreaking and amazing about the world. And in the hands of really good clowns"—she cites Buster Keaton and Bill Irwin—"the response is really quite delightful and funny. If you're not getting some heartbreak with the hilarity, you're not representing the full human experience."

Her training in this tradition allows her to excel at what's demanded of her in Shipwrecked. "I play 27 characters, but I have to find depth and subtlety and speed all at once. The show feels like the play of children, but it's challenging, because the audience has to be willing to lend their imaginations. I'm excited and hopeful and optimistic that our audiences in India will be willing to jump into the game."

Both Gallagher and Meier confess that this project has required a great leap of faith, for both the Rogue's players and the new Jagriti Theatre.

"It's both exciting and scary," Meier says. "We hope we can come back having looked at the world through bigger eyes, and that we find a deeper and wider understanding of theater and storytelling—of the art that we practice."

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