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Swandive Theatre opens Southern's ARTShare with Defying Gravity

A scene from <em>Defying Gravity</em>.

A scene from Defying Gravity.

For those who grew up in the '80s, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion was the defining moment.

Meg Disciorio was eight at the time. The Catholic school's blocky television had been wheeled into the class for everyone to watch. "The teacher started crying, and then the principal came on the intercom and had us all pray the Rosary," she says.

See also: Southern Theatre Launches ARTShare

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Damon Runnals remembers sitting in his first-grade class and having a similar experience leading up to the disaster. "For those us about that age, it had a profound affect. It's the first time the world for us went horribly awry," he says. "There was the whole sense that the chance of ordinary people going into space had been destroyed."

The pair's Swandive Theatre explores the event through Defying Gravity, an impressionistic drama that opens the Southern Theatre's ARTShare program Saturday. (And if you are curious, I was in Ms. Jonas's pre-calculus class when my high-school principal made the announcement.)

The company discovered Jane Anderson's play several years ago, and did a reading of it at one of their summer Veggie Stock events. "It was a huge hit, which was a surprise, especially for me," Disciorio says.

The pair looked for a time and place to do the show. The move from the intimate People's Center to the more expansive Southern was a perfect opportunity.

The extra space has thrilled the pair. For Runnals, it has been especially sweet. He's worked at the Southern for years as the executive director, but this is his first time making art in the space.

Anderson's script remixes and rearranges the material. In fact, most of it has been fictionalized. The names have even been changed, so the teacher on board is not Christa McAuliffe.

"It's not your regular linear story with a beginning, middle, and end. The end that everyone knows is the Challenger exploding, but that happens in the middle of the show. It's more about the events and characters orbiting around each other," Disciorio says.

To add to this sense, "Claude Monet makes several appearances. There is something very impressionistic about the progress of the piece," she adds.

The actual event will still be front and center, presented via images and footage. There will even be snatches of actual audio from mission control leading up to the fateful 73-second flight.

Defying Gravity also marks the start of the Southern's ARTShare program. Members pay $18 a month, which gives them access to as many shows as they wish to see. In turn, 15 area groups will present a 10-performance production in the space during 2015 as part of the program.

"We have about 300 members so far," Runnals says, noting that at a private fundraiser over the weekend, "everyone we talked to thinks the idea is a long time coming and really excited to get it done."

The program offers tremendous opportunities for small companies like Swandive. "We would never have been able to rent the Southern Theater on our own. It is glorious to work here. And the resident companies are getting paid. That is amazing," Disciorio says.

The 15 resident companies include a mixture of dance, experimental theater, youth companies, and some groups on the rise in the area, such as Four Humors and the Workhaus Collective.

"We wanted to have a good mix of things. We wanted to maintain the Southern's commitment to dance and movement, but also move into a broader spectrum of theater," Runnals says.

The theater performances will be Wednesdays through Sundays. Runnals is exploring what kind of events to program for Mondays and Tuesdays, from one-off performances to concerts.

Best of all, it means that a venue that was on the brink of closing a few years ago now has a full year of programming to look forward to in 2015, '16, and '17.

"If we keep plugging away, we will get there," Runnals says.

IF YOU GO:

Defying Gravity Saturday through February 21 The Southern Theater 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis $24 for individual tickets; $18 a month for ARTShare membership For more information, call 612.326.1812 or visit online.