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“I think there is something about San Antonio that is incredibly nurturing and fertile [for the arts], and it’s pretty exciting.” When I sat down recently to talk to Rick Frederick, Managing Director of AtticRep, his genuine optimism about the state of theatre in our city, and particularly about the present and future of AtticRep, was inspiring.
Established in 2005 and permanently residing at Trinity University, AtticRep is a professional theatre company that strives to present provocative and informative work with the intention of stimulating meaningful dialogue and catalyzing change. The vision for AtticRep originated with Roberto Prestigiacomo, the producing artistic director, and his Trinity colleagues who were concerned by the lack of an artistic forum in which students and the community could engage in tough conversations. For nearly eight years, the theatre has operated on the campus and within the community to create a safe and creative space for challenging discourse.
(AtticRep: Theatre Worth Talking About by Walley Films. Meet the Walley’s on the Rivard Report: Local Filmmakers Begin Documentary of Chuck Ramirez)
Frederick explained that the company’s body of work encompasses topical, relevant productions which will hopefully motivate the audience to carry the conversations started on stage with them out of the theater and into the world. AtticRep tries to inform without imparting bias: “[We] try to stay respectful to the text, to let the text work on its own, and therefore produce honest responses in the audience members.” To further inspire dialogue, each show produced by AtticRep has an accompanying blog page soliciting responses and feedback from viewers.
The company produces four to five shows a year, usually including three main stage productions that each run for three weeks, the more experimental Forum Theatre Project, and the Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema.
The first show of the 2012-2013 season is the main stage production American Buffalo by David Mamet. Running now through December 30, 2012, American Buffalo is an emotionally charged play examining the struggle for dominance and identity within the schemes of three small-time crooks. It features Cristopher Boneta, David Connelly, and Ross Everett Olsaver.
Sans Souci is an international short film festival based on movement and dance that incorporates audiovisual art. Started in Colorado and curated by Ana Baer, AtticRep will take part in this year’s San Souci Festival in February 2013 at the Pearl amphitheater.
In May, AtticRep will present Hellcab, directed by Stacey Connelly, and the season will close in August with a piece currently under development by Prestigiacomo and The Aesthetic of Waste, a theatre company that performs at The Overtime Theater. The unusual format for this final show of the season – 30 plays in 60 minutes – will challenge actors and audience alike.
This year, AtticRep is collaborating with visual artists on each production. Jeremiah Teutsch, of recent Chalk it Up fame, directed production design for American Buffalo. The actors vary from show to show and are selected from open auditions. Cast members include Equity actors, younger performers, and AtticRep regulars.
AtticRep’s home at Trinity University affords the company resources it might otherwise have to do without, Frederick indicated. “Because we are in residence at Trinity, [meaning] they’ve been hosting us and allowing us to use equipment and office space, we can hire Equity actors and do work that, in any other situation, we couldn’t.”
Frederick noted that AtticRep is unique for its emphasis on process. In the intimate Attic theater at Trinity, “we focus on realism … and a heightened level of connection between the actors on stage and the audience,” Frederick said.
Often in theatrical productions, scenes are blocked, meaning that the director dictates the actors’ exact movements on the stage. In contrast, AtticRep usually maps their shows, identifying the timing of key movements and interactions through a trial and error process, but then allowing the surrounding motions to occur naturally.
“We come to understand how the stage works and what we need technically to do to make sure the audience can see and hear, but the in between movements are fluid and organic. Every show will be different and every reaction honest,” explained Frederick. The benefit of this? “It keeps everyone on their toes, so they’re engaged at all times. You can’t ‘phone it in’ at an AtticRep show, because someone will hang up on you.”
The company’s focus on authenticity and truthfulness is a necessary condition given the weighty subject matter they often present.
“When you do difficult things, you can’t take it lightly,” said Frederick. “You owe it to the material and to the audience to be respectful, and to make sure that you are serving and presenting it properly.”
To this point, Frederick described AtticRep’s policy that a show will not run if any element is not up to par. In asking visitors to pay $25 for a ticket and requiring actors and AtticRep employees (most of whom have other full-time jobs) to spend long hours preparing for a show, the company’s dedication to productions of nothing less than the highest quality boils down to respect – for the audience, for the members of the company, and for the work.
AtticRep hopes to engage more with the community, moving into public places like the Pearl more often. Frederick hopes that this will help establish and clarify the company’s position as a theatre in residence, hosted by but separate from Trinity University. Increasing awareness about AtticRep will help to bring new audiences back to their home base on campus, and incidentally introduce more people to Trinity University theatre productions.
Frederick comes from a visual arts background; he is a ceramicist by trade. He studied at a conservatory in Detroit, specializing in every aspect of theatre arts from set design and costumes to acting. After college, he headed to Chigago with his Equity and SAG cards in hand. Spending thirteen years with a company there, he then stepped off the stage and back into the visual arts where he met his partner, an artist from San Antonio. During subsequent visits Texas, Frederick became acquainted with the welcoming arts community of San Antonio and in 2005, decided to move.
Months after relocating, he met Prestigiacomo and Tim Hedgepeth who expressed their interest in starting a theatre company.
“I said, ‘I have no interest in joining a company, but I’m interested in doing a play.’ It’s funny now, because I did that play (One for the Road) and I’ve been with them ever since.”
“There was something about their effort and working in this facility that I started to do the best work of my career,” Frederick said. “It’s amazing what the city does to encourage arts to happen here. It’s been great, their support.”
Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]