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The FWDC’s fundraiser puts you at the heart of an epic love story
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
In the grand tradition of most teenage romances, Romeo and Juliet’s great passion begins with the two star-crossed lovers locking eyes at a party. Papa Capulet has invited Count Paris so that Capulet’s daughter Juliet can meet him — the count intends to marry Juliet one day.
Meanwhile, Romeo… well, Romeo is crashing the party. He’s there looking for someone else — Juliet’s cousin, if you recall — when he spies the daughter of his family’s arch enemy and the two fall in love…
And in the Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s Star Crossed, you’ll be at the party, too. Maybe you’ll be a Montague. Maybe you’ll be a Capulet. But you’ll be at that party, playing some kind of role in the epic love story as it unfolds around you.
And all to the strains of The Orange Opera.
If you’re a little mystified… give us a minute.
Star Crossed is a fundraiser for the Fort Wayne Dance Collective; the money raised goes towards creating scholarships for students interested in studying dance. FWDC does a lot of outreach in the community, says Alison Gerardot, the FWDC’s outreach director. “A lot of those students don’t have the opportunity to study dance other than the one time per week that we’re able to come to their school,” she says. “This fundraiser is to raise money so that those students will have the opportunity to take classes here, or go to IU’s Summer Intensive program, or other things like that.”
As you might expect from an organization that leans towards the experimental and the avant garde, the Fort Wayne Dance Collective chose not to go the usual routes when planning the event. “We wanted to do something that’s not ‘just’ a sit down performance,” says Gerardot, who in addition to serving as outreach director is also a choreographer and dancer at the FWDC. “We wanted something inventive, something that showcases what we do and who we are.”
The light bulb moment happened for Gerardot when she heard about “Sleep No More,” a work of immersive theater that has been earning rave reviews — and massive attendance — in New York for the last couple years.
The overall concept of “Sleep No More” — and immersive theater in general — is a little difficult to describe. The performance is site specific, and the site itself serves as the “stage.” The audience is essentially part of the story. “The audience can move through the space without many restrictions,” Gerardot explains. “It’s very much an interactive event. We’re calling it ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’.”
The story you’re part of in Star Crossed is Romeo and Juliet, and the performance space is the Indiana Hotel and the Embassy. “It was our first choice for a space when we thought of this event,” says Gerardot. “The Embassy was really open to doing something like this.”
When you enter, you’ll be given a mask and a piece of colored fabric — orange for the Capulets, or blue for the Montagues. Throughout the show, actors portraying members of the opposite family — the actors will be the ones not wearing masks — may try to persuade you to “switch teams.”
The big ball scene, where boy meets girl, is in the Indiana Hotel lobby, and that’s where you can enjoy the catered food (from Hall’s) and cash bar, and listen to The Orange Opera, while the drama gradually begins to unfold around you. “You’re partying right along with the rival families,” Gerardot says.
Eventually, other performers acting as guides will lead you through the story, a journey that will take you through the backstage passages and understage catacombs of the Embassy Theatre and eventually end on the stage. There’s very little language, and all the main scenes are dance-based.
Like a lot of what the FWDC does, Star Crossed features some interesting collaborations between the dance organization and other mebers of the arts community. Besides The Orange Opera, Dave Todoran, Metavari, Fort Wayne Taiko, and other musical guests provide the soundtrack. “The whole ‘choose your own adventure’ format, coupled with the idea of each scene interpreted as dance, appealed to us immediately,” says Nate Utesch of Metavari, who performs during the final scene. “The timing of it all was a little serendipitous. We have been talking for months about incorporating dance into shows here in town. While this isn't a composition specifically for Star Crossed, it is something not many folks have heard. We sent the Star Crossed stronghold four or five tracks from the new record and they chose that one as the best fit for the night.”
While Gerardot choreographed the dance pieces, directing the overall production fell to Greg Stieber. Stieber helped break down the structure of the original play and recruited the actors and other performers who serve as guides and other non-dance characters in the show. “Anyone from ticket sellers to musicians… anyone who is involved, I wanted them in character,” Stieber says. “To prepare, I try to guide the actors through a structured improv, where we try to second guess how an audience member might react. Quite often, when you’re working in an improv situation, the audience might be kind of shy about it, so we work with how to make an audience feel comfortable and engaged.”
Stieber has adapted Shakespeare before, but the challenge here was not being able to use the language. “We’ve been building a dictionary where we use certain phrases,” he says. “From the play, just the prologue and epilogue remain.”
During the show, Stieber and Gloria Minnick — a local actress and performer with FWDC — will be circulating among the other actors. “We’re kind of passive aggressively acting as quiet directors that night, driving the ensemble, watching the clock,” Stieber says.
From an organizational standpoint, Star Crossed sounds like a pretty daunting and ambitious undertaking. Fort Wayne has certainly seen nothing quite like it. But as it comes together, and as “test” audiences are brought through during dress rehearsals, Star Crossed promises to be just a fun and entertaining experience. What’s exciting about this event is that it lends itself to something we can do every year,” says Gerardot. “Different story, different space, all kinds of new possibilities.”
Star Crossed: A Fundraising Event
Friday, September 13
7:30 PM — 10 PM
125 W Jefferson Boulevard
Tickets: $35. Available at all Ticket Master locations.
For more information on the Fort Wayne Dance Collective— and to watch a video promo for Star Crossed — go to fwdc.org.