Unexpected Theater in Unexpected Places: 10 minutes with Theater Ninjas’ Jeremy Paul
Theater Ninjas is a Cleveland-based theater organization that describes itself as “architects of out-of-the-ordinary experiences.” On November 1-17, Theater Ninjas will present Marble Cities at the Ohio City Masonic Temple.
We recently spoke with Theater Ninjas’ Artistic Director Jeremy Paul about the group’s upcoming performances. Theater Ninjas received a 2012 Project Support grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture for this project.
Tell us a little bit about Theater Ninjas and your approach to theater. What makes you different from other local theater organizations?
As the only nomadic theater company in Cleveland, we do things a little differently, but at the core of our identity is the idea of theater as an event, and everything we do feeds into our goal of creating extra-ordinary experiences. We create innovative, exciting live events using an ensemble-driven process and a wide range of techniques including physical improvisation, chance, interactivity, clown, song and most importantly the power of the human body to tell a story. We see every show as a chance to dig deeper into unknown territory; taking risks with the form is what defines us. This goes hand-in-hand with our mission to reduce barriers to the avant-garde and providing opportunities for new artists and new audiences to engage with each other.
What’s the story behind the name “Theater Ninjas”?
We chose our name deliberately to invoke the essence of a “ninja” – adaptation, teamwork, physicality, nomadic, resourcefulness. All of our work involves adaptation to different environments, actors, material and the ever-changing Cleveland community. Our work is extremely physical, with a rigorous training regime built into our rehearsal process and an active, dance-like style marking many of our productions. The name invokes playfulness as well, which melds with our dedication to technical proficiency and to communicate that our work is seriously fun or playfully dramatic. As performance nomads, we excel at making theater in unlikely locations. Every show requires that we recognize the unique characteristics of our environments and use them to the fullest.
What is the Marble Cities project and how did it come about?
Marble Cities came from a quote by Augustus Caesar: “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” We distilled this quote to a simple question: can anyone change the world? This led us down the path to >Marble Cities, a theatrical exploration of power and how it lives in our imaginations. There is a colorful list of inspirations for this project: secret societies, magic and tarot cards, conspiracy theories and new age pseudo-science, but ultimately it’s a performance about the necessity for change and the difficulty in actually achieving it.
Tell us what the performance will be like. What can your audience expect?
Marble Cities is taking place at the Ohio City Masonic Temple, a massive, labyrinthian structure that highlights several themes of the play. Once there, the audience will be taking on the role of witnesses to a mysterious ritual. The performance itself focuses on a group of people knowingly or unknowingly performing in this ceremony. The path to the theater inside the building is filled with clues as to what’s actually going on, however, and some audience members will have the opportunity to participate in a preshow interactive experience that can reveal even more secrets of Marble Cities.
Do you involve the audience in your performances, and if so, how?
With every show we do, we’re interested in the role the audience plays in the experience. Some shows have been completely fueled by the audience; 2011’s The Excavation was a live-action museum the audience explored, a sort of choose-your-own adventure approach. Based on the themes of the show, we strive to make the audience’s role a part of the story.
What do you hope people will take away after seeing Marble Cities?
Marble Cities is a series of open-ended questions: what would you give up to reach your dreams? What responsibility do people with power and wealth have to the world at large? When is violence justified? Is an average citizen able to have an impact on their nation? Our goal is create a forum for these ideas, make them immediate and graspable. From there, it’s up to the audience to decide what the answers are.
Theater Ninjas performs at a variety of different locations around town. How does the location shape the performance and the audience’s experience?
Theater Ninjas has developed a reputation for our ability to transform a found space into a theatrical environment. As nomads, this gives us the flexibility to choose what neighborhoods to perform in and opportunities to reach new audiences. The space changes the show, it informs it in very important ways; a church is different from a bar is different from a recording studio. Different spaces surprise and challenge us, forcing us to adapt and hone the questions we’re asking in our performances.
What impact does funding from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture have on your work?
Funding from CAC’s Project Support program has been instrumental in allowing us the freedom to try new ideas. Our project budgets tend to be small, and so grants from organizations like CAC give us the chance to expand ideas, hire more artists and fully flesh out details of the show. Marble Cities in particular is benefiting from a longer rehearsal process, a larger cast and greatly enhanced abilities to get the word out about our show. Bottom-line, CAC allows us to do more theater with more artists for more audiences in Northeastern Ohio.
View a video preview of Marble Cities.
If You Go
Theater Ninjas' Marble Cities
Ohio City Masonic Temple, 2831 Franklin St. (corner of Franklin and Fulton), Cleveland, OH 44113