A new company is seeking to support the theatre community as it faces a new performance paradigm.
"It started with 'Songs for a New World,'" Ellipse Theatre Community Co-founder Angelina Anello-Dennee says about the genesis of the company.
- ETC founders, clockwise from top left: Craig Brauner, Angelina Anello-Dennee, Debbie Levin and Amy James
"I wanted to collaborate with Craig [ETC Co-founder Craig Brauner]," Anello-Dennee continues. "We did a drive-in event and one at Les Schwab Amphitheater, two never-befores. That's what got us all together to start this journey." Audiences who watched "Songs" from the parking lot at New Hope Church in Bend were able to tune in to the sound portion of the show on their car radios. At Les Schwab, a limited-number audience sat socially distanced apart to watch the show outdoors in August.
Restrictions imposed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic mean theatre and other performance groups have to invent new ways of bringing their arts to the community. With ETC currently in its infancy, its founders are still in the process of defining specific goals and logistics. The four founders, which include Anello-Dennee, Brauner, Debbie Levin and Amy James, are looking for more board members, volunteers and ideas from the community about everything from organization to priorities to fundraising.
"We're evolving," Brauner explains.
"We want to create something non-traditional," says Anello-Dennee. "Performance, education, spoken word, visual arts. We also want to connect people not yet familiar with all the different arts. Maybe I'm not an art gallery person, but maybe I enjoyed a classical concert at Smith Rock."
"We don't want to be defined by a particular venue anymore," Levin continues. "We're looking at collaborative productions, like cross-pollenating. Some people will go to see dance, but maybe not theatre—or to hear music, but not watch a dance production."
James says the group also emphasizes expanding opportunities and diversity. "We want to be transparent and inclusive," she says. "We're looking for diverse, creative board members from across Central Oregon."
Marla Manning, founder and artistic director for Silent Echo Theater Company in Sisters, is watching the group with a sense of excited expectation.
"I love that they're about collaborating, and willing to hear from the theatre community," she said. Theatre folks in Central Oregon already share and collaborate, she explains, but without any kind of central hub. "All of us (lately) are feeling kind of rootless.
"We need more small venues. I love their slogan, 'One Stage at a Time.' I also love the idea of having a single home venue—but until we can achieve that, we can spend some of our COVID relief money to rent a tent, say, for the clamshell at Drake Park, or behind the Artworks building. Even when the world gets normal again, will we all want a home space? I think only if it makes sense."
Manning also pointed out that the new venture won't pose a competition for existing companies. "The saying goes, 'a rising tide lifts all boats.' Collaboration is actually one of the things I miss most about the theatre community," she says.
"It will be multi-layer," says Brauner. "Core productions plus a collaborative element. What's key is, the traditional structure is all being flipped. We are a new entity, gathering the leadership we need to offer the best possible support to the arts community. How can we partner with an art gallery? Or give a spoken-word artist a platform?"
Manning is hopeful that ETC will be a source of strength in the recovery process, instrumental in reviving Central Oregon's theatre community. "These past months, we have a little less uncertainty," she says. "I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
"It's an exciting time to dream," adds James. "In that respect, it's been a gift to have this break."
Anello-Dennee concurs. "COVID gave us a few gifts, like time. We would have been busy directing, in rehearsals, with no time to look around, evaluate... and dream about our future."
Find ETC on Facebook at: facebook.com/etcbend.