by Phil Gravitt
SONOMA COUNTY, CA – After Brent Lindsey and his wife Amy spent several years on the East Coast in traditional theater companies, they had a meeting of the minds in 1993.
“It was up to us to proceed down that path or change directions.” Deciding on the latter, Brent & Amy formed the ensemble-based Imaginists Theatre Collective in rural Delaware. Finding like minded colleagues, they did away with the hierarchy of traditional theater. “Everyone has a fair say in ensemble,” says Brent. “Actors handled sets, lights, performing, everything. We learned to write and create, and the director became more a facilitator.”
“We don’t audition,” Brent continued. “Ensemble asks a lot of an actor, and it is up to each actor to find how they are going to mine their artistic voice, and how far are they able to go to give back to the project.”
Discussing the audience attracted to ensemble based theater, Brent says, “We reach a different, younger audience. After a show builds buzz, the traditional theater audience eventually comes on board. We do original theater and original adaptation, which is often not as enticing to a standard theater goer. When the title on the marquee is ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,’ and you see puppetry and other things not typical in theater, your brain is going to have to decide if you like it. Ensemble is difficult in this culture, when people want things fast, and we are competing with other entertainment forms that are easier to digest”
Brent quickly adds, “We are not interested in entertaining, and we don’t want the audience to be star struck. We want the audience engaged in dialogue and community. We’re all in it together. It is not audience versus performer. We get out of makeup and into the audience quickly after the show, to find out what are the questions and mysteries, and what did we all go through together.”
After Delaware, Brent and Amy moved to Truckee, then Healdsburg, where they started an education program in 2002. Like the ensemble, the education program is far more a ‘creator program’ rather than an ‘actor program.’ In three years, they grew from six kids to sixty, dropping to forty when Imaginists and the current five member ensemble moved to Santa Rosa.
Explaining his training philosophy, Brent says. “We don’t want to put a lot of actors out into a culture that has an overflow of actors. From kids on up, we are interested in establishing a place where you become a creator. Where students learn to listen to each other and become generous with ideas.”
“When you go out into the world,” Brent continued, “even if you veer away from the art form itself, instilled in you is confidence, active risk taking, and growing your artistic voice. You can become a parent, a chef in a restaurant, just about anything, and find that artistry and creative voice in you and make the world a better place.”
Asked to describe how someone would go about starting a community theater project, Brent explains, “When we started our ensemble, there was no mentorship, no one there to legitimize what we were going to do. None of our teachers were there to say, ‘This is how you do it.’ In the beginning, we were making it up as we went along.
“My hope is that actor training programs are beginning to offer education for those wanting to start non profit grass roots companies. I hope there are more companies like us around, where new companies could write to them and get some help. We are there for people doing what we do.”
More information about The Imaginists Theater Collective can be found at www.TheImaginists.org.
Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.
Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:
- Developing Abilities in Theater Artists with Developmental Disabilities
- Theatrical Interpretation for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Audiences
- Break Some Rules, Take a Risk and Start a Theater Company