Updated: Jan 8
Thank you so much for attending our inaugural performance, "And They Never Recovered From The Shock", as part of the 2022 Rochester Fringe Festival!
Below, we hope you enjoy finding out more about our creative team, and if you like, some background and info on the 4 short plays you saw (they'll be listed below, in the order we performed them).
Feel free to comment and engage--we're so glad you're here.
Here are our Collaborators on this project (with a capital "C"!). Everyone in the room contributed their energy, insight, creativity, talent, and playfulness, which not only made for a delightful process, but ultimately made every project better because of it.
(Actor: Little Sally & Tug Wilson in Know Your Onions; Ensemble in A.T.N.R.F.T.S.)
Drea Bim is a Rochester native who has appeared in a number of local theater productions, and is co-founder of the theater company Nickel Flour. She's very excited to be working with Infinite Spark, exploring more sides of theater and playing with them. Outside of theater, she creates jewelry and other art pieces, explores science and nature, and is seemingly a magnet for animals with missing limbs. In all things, she pursues (and hopes to inspire) curiosity and wonder.
(Co-Artistic Director of Infinite Spark, and Actor: Announcer & Bo in Know Your Onions; Lorenza/Petra in Petra; Ensemble in A.T.N.R.F.T.S., Smirnoff in The Beast)
Jon Froehlich is an actor, director, teacher, and proud co-founder and co-Artistic Director of Infinite Spark Theater Company, with Rachel Kodweis. Prior to moving to Rochester, he was artistic director and a performer with experimental theater company Cloud of Fools, in New York City. (The Whistling Mortician (also writer/director), Dark Eyes, Europa, All That Dies & Rises.) He has performed in NYC, regionally, and internationally, and on stage and film, for the last 20 years. Jon taught movement at Pace University and the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. MFA Columbia University. Member, AEA.
Kendal Hooper is a Rochester based multi-disciplinary artist, musician, and thespian. She received a certificate in Musical Theater Performance from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in 2015. In the theater, she has served as a performer, stage manager, costume designer, wardrobe supervisor, and producer (amongst other things). Her most recent credits include Production Manager of Nickel Flower's Firewater, and Associate Producer of the Rochester Fringe Festival. She has worked with companies such as Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Davenport Productions, Evan Bernardin Productions, and the New York Musical Festival. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook @kendalhoopercreations.
(Co-Artistic Director of Infinite Spark, and Actor: Angelica Nettle in Know Your Onions; Ensemble in A.T.N.R.F.T.S.; Popova in The Beast)
Rachel Kodweis is an actor, vocalist, writer, and movement director. She is co-founder and co-Artistic Director of the newly founded Infinite Spark Theater Company, with Jon Froehlich. In NYC, Rachel collaborated frequently with Casa Cruz de la Luna (Fausto Angleró, The Marquis de Sade is Afraid of the Sea), Cloud of Fools Theatre Co. (Dark Eyes, All That Dies and Rises), Green Space (Pullman Car Hiawatha, The Tempest), among others. Rachel taught voice at Art House Astoria (Queens, NY), Kyoung’s Pacific Beat (New York, NY), and the Studio for Performing Arts (New Canaan, CT). BFA SUNY Fredonia. Member, SAG-AFTRA.
(Actor: Luka in The Beast)
Jonathan Lowery is a classically trained actor, mime, director, and movement specialist living in Rochester, NY. His wide background of training and influences create a unique blend of classical and modern styles, generating a singular creative outlook. From 2007-2018, Jonathan was a member of the internationally renowned PUSH Physical Theatre and is now an independent performer and director as well as a professional fitness and parkour instructor. Jonathan has appeared on national TV and toured as a mime and vaudeville performer throughout the U.S. and in Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Guatemala.
(Actor: Marty Chesterton & Wilson in Know Your Onions)
Katherine Marino has a varied performance career that spans four continents and many disciplines including dance, clown, juggling, puppetry, and physical theater. She earned her BA in Dance from William Smith College in 2012. Upon graduating, she was awarded a Fulbright to teach for one year in Argentina where she continued dancing and was introduced to circus and clowning. Katherine then returned to the US, joined Push Physical Theatre and toured for several years before branching out to produce her own work including The Extraordinary Muffin Theatre Spectacular (2018), The 24 Hour Dance Project (2019), and A Show with Cookies (2019). In addition to performing, Katherine is a passionate teacher and currently teaches dance and clowning at RocCityCircus. Follow her on Instagram @katherine.dances
(Actor: Decklan Vance in Know Your Onions; Ensemble in A.T.N.R.F.T.S.)
Jennifer Nieves is a teacher, actor, vocalist and dancer. M.Ed. in Multicultural Education Eastern University. In Philadelphia, Jennifer collaborated frequently with Yes! And. . . Collaborative Arts, working alongside youth to imagine and create new works of theater together. She currently teaches high school math and advises the DREAM club, Demonstrating Real Equality for All huManity. Jennifer’s favorite creative and collaborative endeavors are in life with her husband and two children.
We hope this is just the first of many more fruitful and fun collaborations with these enriching artists and people.
Here is more info and background on all of the four short plays you saw--should you desire to know. Again, these will be in order of appearance, as they happened in the show. Enjoy, and if you wish, we'd love to hear from you if you have any comments, etc.
ACT 1: KNOW YOUR ONIONS
Know Your Onions is Rachel Kodweis’ first short play (and her second play overall, after her full length debut with Dark Eyes in New York City). And, have we got a fun backstory for you!
Know Your Onions didn’t actually start as a theater piece. It started as a short story that Rachel wrote for a completely different project. Yes, it was still the story of the baseball pitching showdown, and all the essential characters were there; but in the written story, a great majority of the action took place in the minds of the protagonist and antagonist, Angelica Nettle and Marty Chesterton—that is, from their inner points of view as they battled it out on the baseball diamond.
So, since inner monologues can be really difficult to make dramatic, when it came time to select material to develop for this year’s Fringe Festival, Know Your Onions wasn’t an obvious choice.
But then, Rachel was inspired. Over the years she had been fascinated with a theatrical storytelling technique developed by French theater teacher Jacques Lecoq, called simply ‘treteau’, or as we call it, ‘small stage’. With this technique, the challenge is threefold: to condense all the story’s action to a small platform; for all the actors to be visible from beginning to end; and most of all, to solve all of the storytelling problems entirely by physical means—no costumes, no recorded music, and no lighting effects—that is, by using only the actor’s essential tools: their bodies and voices, and nothing else.
With this challenge in mind, Rachel began to see that the story of two competing baseball stars had all the dramatic and physical elements that it needed to convert, or translate, into a small stage production.
At this point it must also be emphasized that one of Rachel’s main interests with this piece was to showcase a specific vocal technique within it: the versatile and dynamic system of Estill Voice Training. So throughout the adaptation and rehearsal process, Estill technique inspired whole range of character voices, sound effects, and musical patterns. Ultimately, we hope to keep opening up the Estill work in further productions—including future iterations of Know Your Onions. (We envision a version where one actor would modulate their voice to give voice to the 3 three main characters, with other actors embodying them!)
In the end, what an adaptation process it was! Suffice it to say, along the way we discovered that this story is so relatable, that in fact it could work in a number of different performance forms! But we’re happy to say that what you’ve seen here at the Fringe is pretty much exactly what we set out to accomplish. We hope you enjoyed our first of many forays into this style!
And now, you can say that you “Know Your Onions!”
ACT 2: PETRA
This story is based on the life of a real person. Her name was Lorenza Böttner, and all the major events you saw on stage actually happened: from the loss of her arms after climbing an electrical pylon as a child, to becoming an artist, to her evolution of identity, to becoming the mascot—I mean emblem—of the 1992 Paralympic Games, to her tragic death from AIDS in 1994.
However, this theatrical adaptation of her life has emerged primarily from two fictionalized, non-biographical sources. The first and primary source is the potent vignette woven into Chilean author Roberto Bolano’s short novel “Estrella Distante”. And then in turn, that short novel was adapted by playwright Javier Antonio Gonzalez as part of his theater company’s kaleidoscopic transformation of Bolano’s novel into the full-length play “Distant Star”. And for this production, Lorenza’s story has been lovingly transplanted out of Gonzalez’s play into a stand-alone one-person performance, with the playwright’s kind permission.
The intention of this performance is to celebrate Lorenza’s extraordinary, inspiring life, for the sheer human beauty and struggle that it was; and within that, to celebrate the act of performance itself.
Namely, as a differently-abled trans woman, Lorenza left behind a legacy of visual and performance art that looks deeply into the layered ways that life itself is a performance—especially in (but not limited to) the areas of gender and ableness. And further still, as her work radiates the uniqueness of her personal experience of the world, it invites us, as the best performances do, to see beyond the narrow slivers of our own experience and witness—and in that witnessing hopefully honor—the breadth, variety, and incalculable value of all manifestations of human life and experience.
Her work (and life) asks, Who are you? No, I mean really? Can we see (and own) our countless daily transformations, as we wind along the longer evolution of our lifespan? And what does it mean, as an interlocking part of the human family, for each of us to be a vital contribution to the astonishing, but so often repressed, expression of human beauty and creativity? (Linked as we are to the whole cosmos, which by definition is the creative emergence of all that is?)
I follow in the footsteps of a woman and artist who was far ahead of her time. And it is in her spirit that I, an averagely-abled, cis-gendered straight white man from North America seek, through my personal connections to her story, to celebrate and elevate Lorenza’s Böttner’s unique life; and by extension, through her, yours.
And lastly, if the impact of my performance comes off in any way at odds with my intentions, I welcome the opportunity to hear from you. email@example.com
For more information about Lorenza Böttner, I highly recommend the exceptional short film documentary about her, “Lorenza”, which can be found here: https://vimeo.com/29793957
ACT 3: AND THEY NEVER RECOVERED FROM THE SHOCK
This piece is an experiment, in that the goal is to express something in a fresh way. We’ve made pieces like this before, but because the realm we’re exploring is different than before, the piece will inherently take shape in an original way.
Also, in order to keep the overall show below 60 minutes, what you’ve seen is only a fragment of a longer piece—a section of a fuller exploration—that we hope to develop further in the future.
As for the piece itself, there is perhaps less to say “about” it than the other three, in that regardless of what we have to say, it is possible for you to have your own interaction with it, and your own interpretation of it. In fact, it’s possible that us going into the dramaturgical details may get in the way of that.
However, if you’d like to take a peek behind the curtain for a general sense of what we were interested in, drawn by, and perhaps hoping to convey—what our intention is—then read on.
At base, what is true of every theatrical production is that it has an opportunity to express something at the level of human truth—whether emotionally, conceptually, intellectually, socially or politically, or perhaps even in the realm of the sacred. Whether it’s an old chestnut or a completely original slice of the avant garde, at base there is a chance that something deeply true about human life and existence might be expressed, transmitted, received.
(Way down below every conversation about box office, scheduling, clout, name-dropping, competition, fame, creative differences, press reviews, etc., this is the quiet mystery; potent, lurking, imperturbable.)
And our belief is that when drawn from this well—when it reaches for its utmost and outermost edges of form and potential—theater can quite literally say newthings: things about life and reality that have never been said before. At least, not in theater’s own special way. How? Because theater is a language, tool, and craft, the subtle uses of which make possible the expression of realities far beyond our everyday uses of languages, tools, and crafts. Theater is capable of expressing at these levels. It can be used to help us grapple with and express our deepest questions, truths, and realities by bypassing the everyday, socialized mind and ego (all the old habits and patterns that can deaden our sensitivity) and communicating directly at the level of the subconscious. At the level of the body, of vibration, of the gut, and by diving deep into the world of image, sign, form, symbol, and myth, where all persons recognize themselves, ‘lose’ themselves, and are, in the end, one.
And here’s the funny part! What makes that experience of union (one-ness) possible isn’t necessarily the ‘seriousness’ of the subject matter, or the quality of the script, or the expense of the production value. (Though all those things can help.) Actually, it’s the part we’re so accustomed to, that we no longer think about it: it’s that we’re together. Our bodies. We’re in the same space. We’re at the same time; and most importantly, guided by intention and form, we’re having a common experience, in all its quintessential (literally ‘all five senses’) glory.
Back to the play:
Having now said some things that may not appear to have much to do with this short piece, we can say that for us, the piece is less “about something” in the sense that traditional narratives are “about something”; it’s less about following a character through recognizable situations or environments, as it is about trying to dynamically encounter, explore, and express difficult, maybe even unanswerable, questions.
Like, how does shock affect us? How do we respond, either individually or collectively? How deep do its roots go in shaping who we are as people in all our intersections—how we express ourselves, understand ourselves, change, grow, and heal? Are shocks only wounds, or are other responses possible? (If life itself is the experience of shock, what does it even mean to ‘recover’ from it? Can we ever? Do we ever?)
To us, it was helpful to look to the writing (or inspiration) of a cloud of artists and seekers, including St. Teresa of Avila, Thich Nhat Hahn, Aesop, Eric Epstein, Christopher Cancel Pomales, and the ensemble. And also, though we found a lot to pack into 10 minutes, there’s still a lot to be discovered, and we feel like we just barely got started with this iteration.
In any case, we don’t have any final answers. This is admittedly pointing to the far edge of what theater, in its unique way, can express. But we hope you find something in our attempt.
ACT 4: THE BEAST
“The Beast” is our adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Bear” (or “The Brute”, in other translations).
While we’ve kept the milieu of late 1800s Russia and the essential structure of Chekhov’s original, in keeping with our theatrical interests we’ve made two primary changes that affect both the flow and feel of our production. One, we cut out as much dialogue as we could (from an already short one act!), and two, as Luka says at the beginning, we rewrote several sections of the dialogue.
For one, we’ve often found that wherever there’s excessive text, there’s less opportunity for creating really fun, and let’s say theatrical solutions to the acting and staging. In short, we love physical action (and especially physical comedy) so much, we want to give ourselves as many opportunities to play as we possibly can. And sometimes, a bunch of words can get in the way of that. :)
And as to the re-writing: for as witty and funny as Chekhov’s work is, he had no compunctions about indulging in sexist stereotypes. As originally written, the core of this one-act is pretty much a big stereotype joke: “haha, look at what senseless, emotional creatures women are, and how men think that they themselves are reasonable and rational”. But even when played to rightly satirize how fatuous these beliefs are, it’s still just so tired and boring to repeat them for the millionth time on stage, or anywhere else. It ultimately ends up repeating the message, and we were just not interested in hearing it anymore.
So, if we may be so bold, we rewrote those sections, just to center the humor on the characters themselves and their foibles. They each have different needs, and different beliefs, and they hold to them hard; and the more they try to get their way, the more they actually reveal about themselves—not as cliches, but as real, messy, flawed—and funny—people. And wouldn’t you know it? The more they reveal their true selves, against all odds they find something deeper that unites them. Which is something to which we hope a great many more of us can actually relate—and laugh with.
Oh, speaking of Chekhov’s writing, one last thing. Many—certainly in the world of traditional American theater—associate Chekhov’s plays with melodrama and kitchen-sink naturalism, and with strict adherence to fourth-wall realism. But it is perhaps less well known that Chekhov himself felt this was not the true spirit of his work. Responding to the more serious and melodramatic direction in which famed theater director Konstantin Stanislavsky took his work, Chekhov once said “I have written farces; but Stanislavsky has turned them into chamber melodramas!” At any rate, in that vein, the only dialogue we did add was for Luka, at the top, to go even further away from naturalism, and hopefully make even more opportunity for you to delight in the vital, playful experience of live theater: up-close, immediate, and in real time.
Ultimately, everyone can play their Chekhov however they like—in fact it’s a testament to his creativity that his work can be interpreted in so many ways. But for our part, we’re happy to take him at his word and dive headlong into his brilliant humor. We hope you enjoy it.