John Ferguson -- whose eponymous theater company brought us innovative productions such as You're My Favorite Kind of Pretty, Super Monkey, and Animal Farm -- has got a new name for his company, a broader vision, and ambitious plans. The group will open its first show, A Bun for a Door Handle, this weekend. The production features a cast of dancers -- including Katelyn Skelley and Ned Sturgis from TU Dance, and Kaleena Miller from Rhythmic Circus -- and takes off where You're My Favorite Kind of Pretty left off.
The reason for changing the name from Jon Ferguson Theatre Company to Theatre Forever was to reflect the group's collaborative nature. "My work is so much more than just me," he says. "I wanted to embrace that more. It's not just about Jon Ferguson." He says that he has always felt awkward having a company with his own name, but could never decide on one that fit.
Rehearsal photo: Ned Sturgis, Katelyn Skelley, Jon Ferguson
Photo by Eric Melzer
The idea behind the name Theatre Forever has to do with Ferguson's relationship with theater as a love affair. "Sometimes it works really well. Some things I can't deal with. I called it this because I can't stop." Also, the name reflects a desire to go beyond the ephemeral nature of the art form. "If you are doing work really well and digging deep, your work is much bigger than you. It should live beyond your own life." He hopes the new company's work will live beyond just the one production, whether that be in people's minds or through publication. "It's bigger than us," he says. "It's bigger than the artists."
In some ways, Theatre Forever is a bigger endeavor than his previous company. "This is a longer process," he says. The first show, which opens this weekend, is kind of a soft opening. The group will soon announce a three-show season that will start in the fall.
Their first show,
A Bun for A Door Handle
, is a sequel to
You're My Favorite Kind of Pretty
, which premiered at the Southern Theater in 2008. The play was based on his relationship with his wife, Megan Odell, who is one of the founders of Live Action Set. A very personal work, it starred Ferguson, Sara Richardson, and Jason Ballweber. The piece was about intense desire and deep life, and was very colorful, romantic, and sexual. "It was kind of a rollercoaster," Ferguson says.
A Bun for A Door Handle is about being with someone for a long time. "It's about the change that happens when you start out with one map that works quite well, and then all of a sudden the map changes and two people discover how to live together. It's about breaking barriers and finding something new, breaking through and transcending a place of conflict," he says.
Ferguson created the show with a group of dancers. A lot of his work is very physical, but by casting only dancers, he has forced himself to collaborate differently. "A lot of what I do is clown based," he says. But dance is very much a part of his wife's story.
Of course, creating a play about one's own life can be tricky, especially when other people are involved. Ferguson says he and Odell have talked about the show at home, and he's let her know that the story is told in a theatrical way and that nothing is based on real-life discussions or arguments. "What happens in this play is about what Megan and I go through, but it's what many people go through," he says.
Because the work is so collaborative, the cast has brought in their own experiences and ideas about relationships. Ferguson says that the actors have joked, for instance, that rehearsals can be like relationship therapy, and that the process has taught them to understand themselves better.
The play also marks a new direction in Ferguson's career, where he's trying not to be too concerned with box-office success, but rather be interested in the subject matter. "If people come to see it, I'm grateful," he says. "Rather than be obsessed with the idea that it's got to be the greatest play, I'm trying to get to a place where investigation drives the work, as opposed to what's going to sell well," he says.
While Theatre Forever is not yet a 501(c) non-profit, it is working with Springboard for the Arts as a fiscal sponsor. "I've been back and forth about the nonprofit thing for many years," Ferguson says. "I'd love to get proper funding, but all the meetings and all the extra work that goes into that is daunting to me. But that's where I'm heading." Ferguson has rounded up a talented group of people with various expertise for the company's board. He also really wanted to work with this particular group of artists, he says. The core members include John Catron, Annie Enneking, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Sara Richardson, Dario Tangelson, Katie Weber, Allison Witham, and artistic associate Katie Kaufmann.
IF YOU GO:
A Bun for a Door Handle Thursday, February 23 through Sunday, March 4 4023 East Lake Street in Minneapolis 8 p.m. for all shows but Sunday, which are at 7 p.m. $16 for adults, $14 for Fringe button holders and seniors, and $12 for students Pay-what-you-can Thursday, March 1 For reservations, email [email protected]