News / Theater & Performance

'White Rabbit Red Rabbit' defies conventional theater—including rehearsals

Theater seats
Photograph: Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash

Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit is, ostensibly, a play. But it’s also something more than that. The Iranian playwright’s most well-known work has become a world-wide sensation, performed in more than 20 languages by an array of actors both A-list and amateur.

Ground Floor Theatre’s production of the play, running from March 15 to 31, will star an eclectic mix of performers out of Austin’s arts scene, from drag queen Rebecca Havemeyer to poet/playwright Zel Miller III and author/filmmaker Owen Egerton. So what makes this play so popular and unique? It’s hard to say without risking a major spoiler, but each time the text is performed it must be by a new actor who has never read the script or seen White Rabbit Red Rabbit performed. The actor’s on-the-fly performance—one that becomes increasingly threatening—is a vital part of this theatrical experience.

According to Ground Floor Theatre’s artistic director Lisa Scheps, this play is not just a meta-theatrical stunt, but also a powerful artistic statement for our time: “Nassim Soleimanpour wrote this as an exercise of a playwright communicating directly with their audience. He does this with flair and fun and a bit of mystery.”

The performers, of course, are much more in the dark about White Rabbit Red Rabbit than Scheps. She explains, “That is one of the prerequisites. They receive ‘instructions’ two days before their performance, but it gives away very little.”

Owen Egerton, who will be performing the role on March 30, notes that, “When they initially invited me to take part, they recommended I look up nothing. I did that! I think that’s what made me interested in doing it. I’m a little nervous and I’m a little excited and I can’t wait to see what happens.”

As for how Ground Floor Theatre went about choosing these actors, Scheps notes that, “We wanted a diverse selection of performers who were Austin ‘A-Listers,’ and I think we accomplished that. It was also very important for us to be as inclusive as possible to be in line with our mission.” To achieve this, White Rabbit Red Rabbit will feature multiple Spanish language performances and at least one ASL-interpreted performance.

Scheps hopes that this won’t be the last that Austin audiences see of Soleimnapour’s unique play: “We would love to see WRRR continue beyond our run and perhaps be a monthly (or weekly) staple here in Austin.”

With its singular concept and emphasis on the power embodied only in the live theatrical experience, this is one “rabbit” whose run you definitely need to catch.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit runs March 15-31, Thu-Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm. Tickets can be purchased here.

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