Elevator Repair Service gets contemporary in latest work

The company of Fondly, Collette Richland.
The company of Fondly, Collette Richland.
Photo by Ariana Smart Truman
For its latest project, experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service chose to do something that is pretty standard for most ensembles.

"We wanted to shake things up and push our boundaries. There were things we hadn't done. One of those was work on a play," says director John Collins, who helms ERS's latest piece, Fondly, Collette Richland. "There is nothing groundbreaking about a theater company doing that, but it was something that would challenge our accepted practices." The show runs Thursday through Saturday at the Walker Art Center.

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Then again, this is the same company that introduced Gatz, a six-hour reading of The Great Gatsby, at the Walker in 2006. The ERS has constantly pushed boundaries, including crafting a series of shows based on great American novels.

While the format this time is more traditional, the actual stage production will continue ERS's experimental bent. Playwright Sibyl Kempson's past work includes Potatoes of August and The Secret Death of Puppets (or) How Do Puppets Die? (or) Puppets Die in Secret.

"We have been working with long-dead and well-established writers. That was another accidental tradition that we wanted to break out of and work on a play with a living writer. We thought it was a good idea to have it be a woman writer. We had been working with the dead men of the American canon," Collins says.

Kempson has also performed with ERS, and there is a similar aesthetic. "We knew we had a good solid connection with her personally, and had a history with her professionally. We loved her work, and knew her writing would bring something to our process that was completely new," Collins says.

The company worked collaboratively with Kempson to create the script. There has already been a one-act workshop production of the piece, but the Walker performances mark the end of stage two.

"She brought us into the process before she had even written dialogue. We would read pages she had written or things she was researching. We would try something in rehearsal, she would respond to that, and so forth, until we developed the seed of a play," he says.

Performing at the Walker not only gave the ensemble and writer a deadline -- important for finishing any creative task -- but also additional support to bring this stage of the piece to fruition.

"It's well beyond a workshop, but not quite to a premiere," Collins says about the state of the play.

And what will the experience be like?

"It will be much more dreamlike. It is not so much of a matter of a single narrative. I'm really excited to introduce Sibyl to a larger audience. She has an incredibly unique voice. It is mind bending and strange and thrilling," Collins says. "I want the audience to experience being inside Sibyl's head, and know the world through this strange lens. It is an absolutely joyful experience."


Fondly, Collette Richland
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.375.7600 or visit online.

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Walker Art Center

1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403



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