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The play's the thing
Theatre Ventoux started as a daydream.
Make that, the daydream. The one that Greg Taber had at 14, during his freshman English class. The one that burrowed itself deep in his head and never went away, scratching at the surface again and again until he finally did something about it.
Now, if that sounds a bit much, remember, this is theater.
On the wake of their second undertaking, "This Flattering Glass," Taber and his partner/wife Lisa Mercier-Taber talk about the company, Shakespeare, and how to not let a naked Harry Potter ruin "Equus."
Give us the lowdown on the company?
Greg: Theatre Ventoux is two people: Greg and Lisa Taber. We've kicked the idea of our own theater company around for 20 years. The catalyst for the company was Rogue 2006, when we had a third partner, Raul Vasquez, and called ourselves Frailty Thy Name is Woman Productions. As we began to see this as a long-term proposition, we restructured the company, changing it to Theatre Ventoux. Our goals are simple: Give both our actors and our audience an unforgettable experience.
It seems like there was a time when we had new theater companies popping up every couple of weeks. How does Theatre Ventoux fit into the theater arts scene in town? How do you compete with more established companies? Is there a movement toward more experimental theater in town?
Greg: Theatre Ventoux isn't trying to fit in; we want to stand out. We are different from most local theater companies in several ways. First, we don't audition. We cast shows around actors whose work we respect and admire. At the same time, we are always on the lookout for new people, and have met some wonderful actors who are working with us in future productions. Another thing that sets us apart is the training our actors receive. I use a technique based on the work of Stephen Book, a professional acting teacher who was one of my professors at USC. This technique gives actors, regardless of experience or other training, a specific set of acting tools and establishes a common ground from which to work. We aren't looking to compete with anyone. We are doing this simply because we can, and want to see what might happen. It's refreshing to see independent companies like Epic doing relevant, edgy and challenging theater. We aren't necessarily going to "push the envelope" with the plays we choose. However, we certainly intend to set the bar in regard to what our actors bring to the stage in each play we do.
A follow up. Are you really planning to stage "Equus" next fall? Sans Harry Potter? With the press the play is getting, is Fresno ready for that?
Lisa: The rumors are true. We are staging "Equus" in November. Ninety-nine percent of the cast is in place and everyone involved is excited. "Equus" will be my first directorial experience. Greg and I intend to produce and direct all of our productions as a team, taking turns in regard to who gets the final say. I am artistic director for "This Flattering Glass," and Greg will take that role in "Equus." My decision to direct this particular show was easy. I had read several plays, from period pieces to classics, to newly published work. They were all good, but nothing hooked me. I picked up "Equus" one day, read the first scene and saw the whole show in my mind. I knew I had to do it. I'm not trying to shock people. There will be minimal flesh exposed in this production. My focus is to tell the story of Alan, a tormented young man, and Dysart, his emotionally destitute psychiatrist. I hope Fresno is willing to forget Harry Potter in the buff and see what we bring to the stage.
Theatre Ventoux seems a very grass roots kind of company. What challenges does that present?
Lisa: The biggest challenges we have faced in staging our first shows have been financial and spatial. We are the financial backers of "This Flattering Glass." We have learned how to get the most out of a limited budget. Before I became a teacher, I worked in advertising and public relations. It's been fun to put those skills to use again. Our friend and my mentor, Marcel Nunis, has taught me how to use the Internet as a marketing tool to get the most BITS (butts in the seats) for the buck. Chris Campbell and Julie Ann Keller have been generous in providing a performance venue and rehearsal space. This would not be happening without them.
On your Web site, you guys offer a money-back guarantee. That's a bold statement.
Greg: We are a bold group. I am confident that our audience will embrace what we're doing and feel that their time was well spent. It's simple, really: We are asking our audience to give us money in exchange for a production that is worth their time. If we don't do that, we don't deserve their money.
The company debuted at Rogue this year. How was the response? And how is this new production different from what you've done?
Greg: The response to "Muse of Fire" was precisely what we wanted. It got people talking about us. "Muse" was always intended as a showcase for our actors and as a commercial for "This Flattering Glass."
All right then, talk a bit about that.
Greg: "This Flattering Glass," is a story about relationships; fathers and sons, husbands, wives and lovers, leaders and followers, and how power destroys them. I adapted the script to make it more accessible and powerful to a modern audience, something I think Shakespeare would approve of. While the language is traditional, you won't see Elizabethan garb and flashing rapiers. Rather, you will see smartly cut suits and a double handful of modern firearms locked, loaded and ready to go.
And a closing question. Shakespeare Overrated?
GT: Of course Shakespeare is overrated. In the same way Mozart, Beethoven and Bach are overrated. They were geniuses. How can one possibly underrate genius? It's like this: No one before or since has done what Shakespeare did. That's all there really is to it.