Off-Leash Area First Annual Garage Tour (Theater Spotlight)

Ashley Thimm

"We thought, what a perfect grassroots theater kind of thing to do," says Jennifer Ilse, co-artistic director of Off-Leash Area, when quizzed about the company's First Annual Garage Tour. "It's a matter of connecting arts to communities. That's always a question in people's minds when you're trying to get more audiences—how do you connect to different people and different demographics?" Off-Leash has performed in its own backyard venue, Our Garage (one of the more literally named local theater spaces), for the past eight years, as well at assorted theaters on a show-by-show basis. This time out, they're taking their 2007 sci-fi fable A Gift for Planet BX63 on a tour of various home garages from August through October. Potential candidates are invited to phone up Off-Leash and find out whether their garages might qualify (space and electrical power being the primary considerations). "It's a bit like the (Open Eye Figure Theatre) Driveway Tour," adds Paul Herwig, Off-Leash's other co-artistic director. "Traditionally what you do is go to a small venue like someone's living room, or school center, or meeting center, but there you're so limited. We love the magic black box of theater—there's no problem there in order for us to do our thing. A garage is so perfect." Planet BX63, clocking in at an hour, seems perfect for the sort of neighborhood party/community art experience that Off-Leash envisions. It's a simple story of a little girl visited by a salesman from another dimension (including sleight-of-hand visuals and inventive movement) that potentially appeals to ages ranging from the preschool set to the adventuresome elderly. Herwig in particular cites the prospect of metro-wide barnstorming as a motivator. "I used to tour, but it feels like nobody tours anymore," he adds. "We said, screw it, we're going to tour anyway. We're going to tour garages." This year's tour will encompass eight weekly stops, but Herwig is already thinking about a more expansive schedule next year. "Eventually we hope to start when the snows break and go until they come back," he says with a flash of mischief. "We're a virus that's going to spread." Various venues, August 21 through October 17. For information call 612.724.7372.

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