Theatre Contra: Daring You to Celebrate Their 5th Anniversary.
The plucky theatre company asks the audience to join them on a Dare Night, as part of their ongoing film script reading series.
Starting a theatre company from scratch is not an easy task to take on. Philadelphia boasts a bevy of theatre companies large and small: some new, some established, and there's always reason to celebrate when one of them reaches a milestone anniversary. This year marks the 5th anniversary of Theatre Contra, a small but mighty company that produces a production annually as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and has become notable for their year-round reading series. Their Contra Reading Series consists of company members and other Philly theatre artists getting together to do a stage reading of a somewhat famous movie script.
Theatre Contra was established in 2018, after a successful production in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. At the time there were nine company members, with a two-pronged goal of creating new and exciting work in Philadelphia, while also allowing for fresh theatre artists to explore various aspects of production. A designer could act, an actor could direct; they wanted to create a safe and nurturing environment to explore all the different ways that theatre is produced. Bryant Edwards (he/him) was one of those founding nine members, and is still part of the company 5 years later. Of the founding of the company, he said "In smaller theatre communities, it can be hard to do what you want to do, so one of the best ways to do that is to produce it yourself."
Shortly after their origin, the company found themselves starting a reading series. Inspired by a video of celebrities doing a benefit reading of the script of Space Jam, they decided the readings would be of famous "just-below-cult" status films. Their first reading was in December of 2018: they presented Die Hard to a standing-room-only crowd. Their next reading was of National Treasure, and the audience had doubled in size. The reading series proved to be a wonderful fundraiser for their annual Fringe production. It became quite fun for the company members to pick which movies to read. "People love Nic Cage movies," said company member Mariah Ghant (she/her), which is why previous readings have included both National Treasure films. They've also presented most of the Twilight Saga, The Mummy and Clue, among others.
This year, the company decided to combine their Fringe show with a live movie reading. A twist on the reading format, Dare Night: School of Rock is an interactive audience experience, where audience members can dare the cast to do specific things while the reading is happening. Smartly, they are asking for dares in advance of the performance and categorizing them into green and red dares. Green dares are simple, less intense dares, that you might give to a stranger; while red dares are more intense, like something you would dare your best friend to do. "One of our company members is still worried about an audience member asking us to shave our heads live, which we're making sure won't happen" says Ghant. Ghant also elaborated on the trust built between the company and audiences that is helping to foster this production. Their audiences consist of many regulars that want to see them succeed, and the company members are trusting that the audience won't want to make them feel unsafe.
After five years as a company, Theatre Contra looks to the future as they continue to find their place in the Philadelphia theatre landscape. "We'll continue with our reading series, and get back to some more devised work like we did pre-pandemic," says Edwards. "We also want to start focusing on community events, like trivia nights, zumba, who knows what...just stuff that engages the community." They've also updated their mission statement to reflect their investment in their audiences:
Theatre Contra thrives on the phrase “low stakes, high fun”. By challenging the typical audience-theatre dynamic, we aim to fill spaces with joy, share stories of conflict and conviction, and make theatre for everyone who wants to experience it.
This upcoming Fringe show surely embodies this evolved statement, and hopefully Theatre Contra will continue to play with their audiences (and famous movie scripts) for years to come.
Dare Night: School of Rock
will be presented at The Arden Hamilton Family Arts Center (62 N. 2nd St.) on September 15th and 22nd at 8:00pm.
Tickets and more information can be found at www.theatrecontra.com
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