Here in New Orleans, one of the city’s most active and distinctive companies announced that they will be taking a break from producing. Cripple Creek Theatre Co. provided post-flood New Orleans with crafty shows that carried bravado. They produced in retro auditoriums, backyards, parks, galleries, bars, and twisted stages. In fact, The NOLA Project co-produced Balm in Gilead with Cripple Creek in 2012. They found an aesthetic that was politically righteous with a tendency towards the bold. This is the third small theater company that I’ve admired to stop producing this month. Odd enough, all of them have a similar tone of deep, dark intellect and passionate bravery. In Boston (where I went to college), Whistler in the Dark Theatre and Atomic Age recently announced that they’re concluding their work. In light of these closures, it seems like the initial impulse is to mourn, as it may seem like something went wrong. Or at least, things didn’t go as planned. However, I would like to insist that the resting of these companies is something to be proud of and, in fact, admire.
In his email to the Cripple Creek base Artistic Director, Andy Vaught (a man I’ve always admired for his wild, brilliant presence) wrote, “We are taking a break. I won’t say this is the end of Cripple Creek, because I don’t believe it is. All of us, though, need to take some time and space to answer some very real questions about what we as an organization actually intend to do, and how we as an organization can go about achieving it.”
(Cripple Creek’s Possum Kingdom)
Whistler in the Dark is known in Boston for being one of the city’s most mainstream fringe companies (an uncomfortable title for a fringe company). Whistler produced profoundly intelligent pieces that embraced language, poetry, and power. I worked with this company on three projects: one as a producing assistant and the two others as an assistant director. Whistler had a puritanical discipline that was to be admired. The commitment was fierce and the respect for the material was holy. Their work was so thorough and so dug into, it had a beautiful, handmade texture. In an email to Whistler’s base earlier this month, Artistic Director, Meg Taintor (a close friend and mentor of mine) wrote, “It is with gratitude to this amazing community of collaborators and audiences that I announce that after our upcoming production of Far Away – after nine season, 25 productions and hundreds of artistic collaborations – Whistler in the Dark will be disbanding and closing our doors. The artists who have made Whistler their home continue to work, both in Boston and other cities around the country, but this phase in our lives in ending.”
(Whistler in the Dark’s Tales From Ovid)
Atomic Age Theatre Company was a small nonprofit created by two of my peers from college. The goal was to produce socially engaging works that had a kick. The company was rooted in a Beacon Hill Episcopal church for sometime, producing deliciously wicked and challenging plays. The visionary leaders were Michelle Roginsky and Jeff Freeman, both fireballs. Jeff was the Artistic Director and caretaker of the company. I was lucky enough to serve on the board of the company among some of the most intelligent (and recreationally brooding) students at our college. However, once we graduated and moved to different corners of the country, the company lost its harmonizers and the not-for-profit status was purposely not renewed.
(Atomic Age’s Bash)
The conclusions of these companies is something that we should admire. It represents a connectivity to artistic mission. Cripple Creek, Whistler, and Atomic were truly rooted in their people. As their internal and external communities changed, so did they. Bringing these companies to a rest is not something to pity, it’s something to admire. They had leaders so in-tune, so engaged, they could sense and analyze the impact and relevancy of their work. They refused to sacrifice mission or artistic quality for obligation or expectation. We need more of this in the American theater. We need companies who constantly review their purpose as artists in a community. We need them to look clearly into the truths of their relationships with the communities they’re dedicated to serve. Adventures should be allowed to come to a close. Artists should be allowed to move on to try new things and explore new missions. So during this time, let us remember the productions produced and their impacts on our lives and the world around us. Let’s offer Cripple Creek, Whistler, and Atomic a congratulations on a job well done! I can’t wait to see what these artists do next.
- Alex Ates, Company Member
Read Artistic Director, A.J. Allegra’s note on Cripple Creek here.