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News / Theater & Performance

A nationwide premiere is coming to Austin's tiniest stage tomorrow

The Vortex
Photograph: Courtesy The Vortex

Starting tomorrow, Austin’s Vortex Theatre will be home to Wild Horses, a one-woman show by playwright Allison Gregory that is being produced as part of the National New Play Network. If you're not familiar with the organization, here's the scoop: The NNPN is a nationwide alliance of nonprofit theaters working together to develop and produce new plays and inspire collaboration between artists. Cool, right? Its flagship initiative is the Rolling World Premiere (RWP), which, according to the NNPN’s website, consists of “three or more theaters that choose to mount the same new play within a 12-month period, allowing the playwright to develop a new work with multiple creative teams in multiple communities.”

Wild Horses, the newest RWP, tells the story of a young girl’s summer-long, coming-of-age adventures from the perspective of her adult self. The Vortex’s production is the show’s third stop, and will star Jennifer Coy Jennings under the direction of Rudy Ramirez. We talked to Jennings and Ramirez about being a part of a RWP, and what it's like creating a work for the Vortex's tiny Pony Shed stage: 

Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to work on a play as part of the NNPN?
Ramirez: It's been fascinating to talk to Allison and hear from her how different theaters around the country have been staging this play. Some have had conventional proscenium stagings; others have been totally immersive. Ours takes advantage of the Butterfly Bar [at the Vortex] so that people can think of this piece as that unforgettable story they heard when they went to a bar that night and met a woman whom they never saw again.
Jennings: I had to resist asking Allison how the other actresses approached the part, because I was genuinely curious but also aware that I needed this to be my own interpretation.

Does collaborating directly with the playwright change the dynamic of working on a one-woman show that's very much focused on the character's inner journey?
Jennings: With this show, I took the story with a grain of salt; that is, I knew it was based on some truth from talking to Allison, but I also wanted to honor her privacy and not ask directly which parts were based on real people and events. I knew the overall story was more important than which character was real, because they were real to me.
Ramirez: It's clear that, for Allison, there's no one right way to do the play, and that seeing more than one production helps her clarify her own work.

It seems like there's a kind of fierce intimacy at work in this production, especially given its tiny performance space. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Ramirez: One-person shows are one of the most intimate forms of theatre; the audience is the scene partner, and you get to create the show in the space between the actor and the audience in the way you normally would between multiple actors.
Jennings: The intimacy for me is the feeling that this woman somehow traveled back to my 8th grade year and wrote everything down! You're peeking into the most angst-ridden, insecure time in most women's lives and laying it bare. On top of that, your adult self is looking back, cringing, and you have to somehow leave that judgment out as you tell the story.

Wild Horses runs November 16 through December 9 at the Vortex Theatre’s Pony Shed, Thu-Sun at 8:30pm; $15-$35.

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