“Alot of people assumed that we were based in the suburb of Savage,” says artistic director Laura Leffler, citing just one reason why the theater company Savage Umbrella recently changed its name to Umbrella Collective. “I’m not from here. I didn’t even know that was a place!”
Founded in 2007, the company has produced a range of powerful, innovative productions. Recent shows have included Ex-Gays, staged in a Whittier church; The Awakening, an adaptation of Kate Chopin’s feminist classic; and The Ravagers, a bloody drama presented in an ominous underground space behind Can Can Wonderland.
The company’s upcoming season kicks off with the latest in its Night of New Works series. In a program that repeats each night from September 10-12 at Bryant-Lake Bowl, artists will workshop segments of three new plays in a way that showcases the company’s collaborative creation process.
“We like to think of it as teaching other people our methodology,” says Leffler. “Making a play through ensemble creation is much different than a playwright sitting down at a typewriter, as I assume Neil Simon always did.”
One of the three plays is Spook, created by Ricardo Beaird and Suzanne Victoria Cross. “It’s a ghost story,” says Beaird, about a dressmaker with mirror-touch synthesia, “where someone sees a sensation, like sees someone being tapped on their shoulder, and then they will also feel that sensation.”
The piece explores themes of grief and social pressure in a family drama about black ancestry. “We’ve been diving into this idea with giant poster paper on Ricardo’s wall,” adds Cross. “We’ve been percolating about it for years.”
Beaird and Cross are excited to be part of the Night of New Works. “This had been in our heads for so long,” says Beaird, “and I thought it would be great to assemble a group of artists who we respect in a room to really dive in and see what this has become.”
Umbrella Collective’s process is helping Cross get comfortable in the world of devised theater. “I, as a trained stage manager, was terrified of this process,” Cross admits. “It’s a process of getting messy and really feeling the theme and vibrations of a piece, versus being scene one, scene two, scene three, how do we get it to opening night?”
The plays presented last year included Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County, the Mixed Precipitation picnic operetta that’s currently touring Minnesota. “I really liked this open and forgiving process,” says creator Scotty Reynolds. “That really encouraged risk-taking.”
The Umbrella Collective team helps artists to curate the questions they’re asking audiences, says Leffler, and to organize the resulting feedback. “Then we can sort of push their boat back off into the waters to continue sailing forward.”
IF YOU GO:
Night of New Works
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
September 10-12; 612-825‑8949